October 25, 2020

Times-Georgian: ‘Old-school pride for Braves’

Courtesy of Corey Cusick and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — There’s no way to sugarcoat it — 2016 proved to be a rough and tumble season in the trenches for the Heard County High School football team.

The Braves never really did find their footing and suffered a first-round exit in the state playoffs as a No. 3 seed.

But with all five starters returning up front offensively this fall and a renewed sense of team chemistry across the board, Heard County is back to its roots of being fast and physical leading into to Friday’s 8 p.m. Class AA state quarterfinal tussle at fellow top seed Thomasville.

And it all starts up front.

“Those guys really had to cut their teeth last year. They were inexperienced and learning and had to get in there and there was a lot of growing pains,” Heard County head coach Tim Barron said.

“The biggest difference, what they did to me, was what they did in the offseason. What they did in the weight room, what they did coming down with coach (Kyle) Yates, putting that extra time in to get better. The success that they’ve had up front, it didn’t start this fall. It started the minute football season was over and the time and effort they’ve put in on their own and in the weight room. They were a lot of fun in the offseason.”

The O-line is still relatively young with a slew of juniors leading the charge, as Brenden Thompson and Michael Cheney are at the guard spots with Anthony Graley and Jaidan Cameron at the two tackles, David Urquilla at center and sophomore Micaiah Austin at tight end.

Having the responsibility of protecting one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in senior signal-caller Emory Jones, the Heard County offensive line developed a bond during the offseason grind and it’s snowballed into a deep playoff run that is now one win away from securing the best season in program history.

“I feel like we’ve grown as a family because last year we were one for all. We weren’t together last year, but this year we’ve grown together and are much stronger mentally,” Cameron said.

The Bulldogs (12-0), who closed the regular season ranked No. 3 in Class AA, are also enjoying one of their best campaigns in school history, recording the most wins since the 1988 state championship season under Mike Hodges when they ran the table at 15-0.

Barron said his linemen will have to be on their game all night long against a Bulldog defense that brings it on every snap.

“Thomasville is very athletic. They’re a three-man front, they send a lot of pressure in zero coverage,” Barron said. “They’re going to have to play well because it’s going to be not just their front coming. They’re going to send six almost every play. We’ve got to be ready to handle it.”

(Front L-R): Micaiah Austin, Sam Brown, Max Smith, and Anthony Graley (Back L-R): Brandon Skipper, Brenden Thompson, Michael Cheney, Jaidan Cameron, and David Urquilla (Photo: Corey Cusick/Times-Georgian)

The Braves (11-1) and their high-powered offense will face their toughest test to date in the form of a Bulldog defense that is yielding just 16.3 points per game.

“They’re going to run a three-man front. Obviously, there’s going to be a mismatch. We’re a lot smaller O-line, but I feel like if we do all the little things right and come out more physical, good things are going to happen for us,” Cheney said.

Thompson agreed that the more physical team will come out on top Friday.

“Their defensive line is good, physical. But if we come out and do the little things right on the O-line, I believe we’ll come out happy,” Thompson said.

Reflecting on the progress in the trenches from last season, there wasn’t any secret formula. It was just a lot of hard work behind the scenes to reach this point.

And now with the opportunity to make school history as the first team to reach Game 14, the Braves are confident that they can clear the quarterfinal hurdle.

“It means the world to us. But we’re not satisfied just being in the third round. We’re still very hungry,” Cheney said. “It’s a great feeling coming out Thanksgiving week being out here practicing knowing there’s only eight teams in the state doing what you’re doing.”

Friday night’s contest will broadcast live on B-92.1 FM.

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