New look, same expectations for Rabun County [VIDEO]
For many on the outside, they see a Rabun County program that saw a mass exodus of 20-plus seniors, their head coach, and pretty much the entire staff. They see the cupboard as bare for the Wildcats, who also move into a new region and classification. But a closer inspection reveals that the notion is far from reality, and the expectations are still the same as they’ve been for many years.
“There was nothing here broken,” says coach Michael Davis, who after 20 years of coaching, including being the Offensive Coordinator for last year’s Rabun County team, found himself with his first head coaching gig. “When [Jaybo] Shaw left, they didn’t leave this broken. There are just some guys that need experience. If we do the little things right, the streak, the wins, and the big things will take care of themselves.”
The goals for this team…are once again sky high, and that’s what Rabun County has always embraced.
“State championship for sure,” states senior wideout Jaden Gibson on the team’s goals. “We’ve been working toward that all summer. The region championship first, and then the end goal is the state championship.”
The offense brings in senior transfer QB Keegan Stover, who came over from West Forsyth. He’s a big guy, and has a killer arm. He has familiar Rabun County weapons all around him in Lang Windham, Jaden Gibson, and Cory Keller to name a few. Stover doesn’t have to be 5-star Gunner Stockton, who became the state’s all-time leading TD passer last season before heading to UGA. Instead, Stover, who is getting some DI looks as well, just has to be himself.
“Getting acclimated to the offense is really easy because of coach Davis,” says Stover, who also says he’s able and willing to extend the play on the run when he needs to. “We have some pretty good dudes…I’d take these dudes with anyone in the state.”
Davis knows that replacing a Stockton is not something you simply do. But he feels confident in what he has in Stover.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been around some really good quarterbacks, and Gunner’s the best – there aren’t many Gunner Stocktons,” adds Davis. “But getting Keegan, who is 6’4″, 215. He’s a little bit different type of player. He slings it pretty good. Maybe not as fast, but he’s a powerful runner. I’m excited about the year he’s capable of having.”
The offense, which generated nearly 50 points per game in last year’s quarterfinals run, should put up similar numbers with Davis back with his offensive mind, and seniors Windham, Gibson, and Keller, as well as West Hall senior WR transfer Noah Legault in play.
Gibson is the spotlight player, as he is coming off the state’s second-best receiving output ever in a single season. He had north of 1,800 receiving yards and exactly 19 TDs. He needs just 1,300 yards and another 19 TD to become the all-time leader in state history.
“That’s a great accomplishment to have,” says Georgia Southern commit Gibson of potentially being the top WR in Georgia history. “But that’s not really the main focus. But if it comes along with it, that’d be great.”
The defense and lines took perhaps the biggest hits in terms of impact starters. As for the defense, it was stingy at 15.15 points per game allowed all season. That side of the ball has a new leader in DC Ricky Ross who takes over for defensive wiz Rob Stockton. The results could be just as awesome for the Cats.
“I’m excited,” says Keller about the defense, in which he impacts the game significantly. “It’s a different defensive scheme than we’ve had in the past, and I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Furthermore, the lines, anchored by returning senior Cruz, have the biggest holes to fill (pun intended).
“Just come to work and get after it,” states Cruz on his message to his new linemates. “Everything is at 100 percent, just focusing on all the details, because everything is really important. This group is working on the little things and working off each other. They’re hard-working.”
Of all the standouts on the team, the one who keeps opposing teams up trying to figure out how to stop him, is Windham. Despite eclipsing 1,000 yards as a sophomore, his rushing yards went down last season, but only because he became a major threat in the passing game as a catcher as well as a runner. He set a career-best 1,400 yards total with 22 TD.
“Personally I always want to do well running the ball,” says Windham. “My personal goals aren’t as much touchdowns and yardage this year, but to do more small things for my team, like hold on to the football, catch the ball, just give my team the best opportunity to win the game.”
Needless to say, the Wildcats are once again loaded, and should have an incredible shot to outright win their ninth consecutive region title. They’ll be in Region 8-A DI with Commerce, Elbert County, and Athens Christian. The Cats open their season in a non-counting scrimmage on August 12 at home against second-round playoff team Bowdon. The first official game is on the road August 19 at Haralson.