The final days of July mark the end of summer vacation for many, but it also means something more to many others in McDuffie County.
It's time for football.
With the daily temperatures ranging in the 90s, and sometimes in the low 100s, pre-season football drills have begun for the Thomson High School Bulldogs. Seventy-three varsity players started practices July 22 and will participate in two sessions a day until school begins.
"We have a lot of youth in this group of kids, but we are going to work them and give them a chance to see what they can do," head coach Luther Welsh said.
Welsh begins the fourth year of his second stint as coach for the Bulldogs. In the mid-'80s, Welsh led the team to back-to-back Class AAA State Football Championships while compiling a 29-0-1 record during the football campaigns of 1984 and 1985.
This year he may be looking for more gold - if he can fill several key positions.
"Offensively, we lost four out of six linemen to graduation last year, and these players are going to be hard to replace," Welsh said. "However, we have kids that are capable of falling into place, but they must get the necessary experience."
On defense, the coaching staff is working to fill several holes. Thomson graduated a free safety, strong safety, cornerback and linebacker this past year.
"One of our strengths this season will be our up-front men on the defensive line. All the players that made up the line last year are back and ready for more," Welsh said.
"We will have to find replacements for Kevin Cowart, Chris Taylor, Korey Castleberry and Quentez Lampkin. Each of these graduates were exceptional football players, and they are going to be truly missed this season," he added.
Another strength that lies in the Bulldog game plan is its offensive backfield. The entire Wing-T backfield - quarterback Deon Palmer, and backs DeMarco McNair, Danny Warren, Ricky Hill, Antwan Johnson and Bromecus Hordens - is back for more action.
Dennis Sanders, the district attorney for the Toombs Judicial Circuit, will serve as the voice of the Bulldogs every Friday night on WTHO radio. And, he is aware of what awaits the Bulldogs this season.
"The big question mark for Thomson this season is definitely the offensive line," Sanders said. "Can we rebuild the line? The answer is yes, but the coaches must find the replacements through hard work and determination from the players' standpoint."
Sanders added, "Last year's offensive line opened the holes that enabled the team to score an average of 33 points per game. One main reason for this success was the effort of graduated center Chris Thigpen."
This year, he's looking for a balanced effort from everyone on the offense.
"Thomson's Wing-T formation relies on superb coordination and timing from the whole offensive squad. The execution of this complex offense relies on the effort and play of everyone," Sanders said.
"An amazing fact about Thomson's offensive backfield this year is that you cannot key on just one person. Quarterback Deon Palmer ... can throw and pitch the ball from either hand. The entire backfield is explosive, because it contains three very important components - strength, quickness and speed."
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