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Stephens County has everything working for it coming into 2022. After winning eight games a year ago in arguably the toughest region in the state, the Indians were still a four-seed out of their region, which featured five of the state’s top-10 ranked teams in Class 3A at one point. Stephens went on to pull off the rare 4-over-1 upset to advance to the second round of state.
“We still could have been better,” says coach Wesley Tankersley (COACH TANK RESUME), who enters his fifth season at Stephens and 15th overall. “Our motto this season has been ‘raise the bar’…but you as a coach and as a program have to remain humble.”
“Everybody kind of had us as an underdog last year going into most of our games,” says star athlete Cam Lacy, who recently committed to Middle Tennessee State University. “This year, we want them to know that we’re going to come in and do this and that. We talk about keep going up, we just can’t get caught up in the hype…every day we have to be one percent better.”
The team is all-in on that message of staying humble, as they echo those sentiments.
“It’s hard to ignore the hype, but we just have to stay humble,” adds star RB TJ Everett. “We can use it as fuel, but we still have to stay humble.”
The Indians are fresh off last year’s second round run, and all those above them in the region lost a significant amount of talent, including Monroe Area, Hart County, Oconee County, etc. Meanwhile, Stephens County returns all of its skill position players, including QB Ben Stowe, star wideouts Lacy and Corey Richie, and the standout RB stable of Everett and Javin Gordon.
“It’s a great problem to have, because there’s only one football,” says Tankersley. “It does cause a little bit more game planning than normal. A big thing for us right now is figuring out our offensive line rotation…got to get that ironed out, or it makes it a lot harder for our skill guys to get somewhere.”
Having so many weapons on offense is key for senior QB Stowe.
“It makes my job way easier just to have those guys, give it to them, and see what they can do with the ball in their hands,” adds Stowe.
Defensively, the team brings back staples like Ritt Tankersley, Lacy, and Richey. However, the tandem of guys like Bryson Trimier, Quanah Martin, Armand Cunningham, and Vedole Fleming graduated on.
“I think guys will have to play a little more both ways than they did last year, but we have so many of them that it won’t be an issue of them being too tired,” adds Tankersley. “I think we will have a good rotation there, and we’ve been able to develop guys who can step in.”
The process hasn’t come overnight to retool the defense, but there is optimism that the group can be even better than last year’s 14.75 points/game allowed.
“It definitely takes time to rebuild and reprocess the defense,” adds Ritt Tankersley. “I think it’s been going really smoothly, we’ve got some big time players like Aidan Butts, Aaron Maxwell, and Javin Gordon on the defensive side of the ball, and we think we can be even better than we were last year.”
With what the team is returning in offensive talent and the defense seemingly shored up, it’s easy to get excited about the prospects of this year’s team, as it is already being compared to the Stephens County 2005 (region title, 10+ wins) and 2007 (region title, 10+ wins, quarterfinals) versions.
“Our first goal is to win [region], but the second goal is to get in the playoffs and get in as good a position as you can,” exclaims Tankersley.
“Region champions…for sure. State champions…for sure. Undefeated season…for sure.,” says Richie of the goals he wants this team to accomplish.”
“We want to leave our legacy on this team…we think this is a special group that can make a run to a region title and go further than the quarterfinals,” adds Ritt Tankersley.
The sky is the limit for the 2022 Indians, who open against archrivals Habersham Central in Week 1 at The Reservation.
^REGION 8-AAA GAME
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