The Warriors begin the season with a pair of road games at Class 3A, No. 3 Piedmont, then travel to the always tough Death Valley in Alexandria to open Class 4A, Region 5 play.
Cherokee County plays in front of its home crowd for the first time in 2012 against a rejuvenated Jacksonville on Sept. 14, then travels to tangle with the Cleburne County Tigers on Sept. 21.
Ider, a Class 2A playoff team from last season, comes to town to end September, then the Warriors close out region play against Lincoln, Anniston, Munford and Hokes Bluff.
Warrior coach Tripp Curry knows the Warriors are in for some brutal battles. With that in mind, he’s cut out a lot of passing camps and gotten his team to focus on the old cliché of getting bigger, faster, stronger.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room,” Curry said. “I hope that’s going to pay off. Most of the games we play, I think, are going to be borderline games ... 17-14, 21-17, those type of games. I think we’re good enough to where people aren’t going to blow us out, but I don’t know if we’re good enough to where we can blow everybody out too. It’s 50-50.”
The good news for the Warriors is they return most of the skill players off their 2011 playoff team, including senior quarterback Tanner Young.
Young threw for 1,590 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Now with a year under center under his belt, Young is hopeful those numbers will increase in 2012.
“I feel like I’m a little more comfortable,” Young said. “We’ve got a few more options now. Logan Pierce played tight end last year, and we split him out to get him the ball a lot more. Wade Griffith is moving over from defense to play tight end in Logan’s spot. Jacob Whitmire is moving over from defense to play receiver instead of corner. We’ve got Ty (Green) coming back (at tailback), and he’s the fastest person around. D.J. (McAllister) can do it all. I think we’ve come a long way.”
McAllister, a senior running back, said he’s been working on catching the ball better. He said he’s anxious to see what the offense can do come the regular season.
“Ty’s gotten bigger and faster since last year, and our line has gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” McAllister said. “Our quarterback has gotten better, so we’re just going to have to work hard, stay tough and go all out.”
Pierce, a senior, said it’s been a challenge for him moving from tight end to receiver.
“I’m getting a lot more balls thrown at me,” he said. ”It’s really opened my eyes of how I need to be aware. It’s teaching me a lot. I’ve been doing a little more conditioning, a little more running, since my new role on the team is more running than blocking.”
Speaking of blocking, the Warriors have much of last season’s offensive line intact. The line is anchored by senior Dalton Nabors, junior Brad Minor, and sophomores Andrew Johnson and Jacob Green.
“If you want something to be back, you’d want it to be your offensive line,” Curry said. “Really and truly, we’re just about back intact, and we’re excited about that.”
Curry feels the same about the Warrior defensive line, saying the D-line “may be a strong point for us this year.”
“Brandon Henderson, Zac Bedwell, Austin Adams ... they’re probably going to be strong for us this year. I think that’s going to be the big separation from last year to this year,” Curry said.
Bedwell, now a senior, agrees.
“Our defense is going to have to step up a little more than we did last year, but I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Bedwell said.
Curry has also been encouraged by what the Warriors have returning at linebacker and in the secondary. Seniors Josh Higgins and Tae Rooks, junior Dallas Cabe and sophomore Tyler Trotter comprise the linebacker corps. Senior Lucas Whitmire and juniors Darius Covington, Tanner Johnson and Eric Burgess will patrol the Warrior secondary.
“They’re good athletes, but some haven’t played there before,” Curry said. “That’s a question mark.”
If the Warriors have as many close games as Curry predicts, the difference between winning and losing could come down to special teams.
Young doubles as the Warrior punter, while Burgess returns as the Warrior kicker.
Young helped the Warriors win a game on a fake punt last season against Cedar Bluff. Curry said he’s “comfortable” with his quarterback also lining up to punt. He points to the success former Warrior and current Jacksonville State standout Coty Blanchard had in the dual role a few seasons ago.
“There were a lot of times where people didn’t even rush our punter,” Curry said. “You don’t want to rush them because they may throw it. Tanner probably won the ball against Cedar Bluff last year. Tanner being a quarterback, that (fake punt) wasn’t a called play. He just recognized it, so I feel a little comfortable with the quarterback back there.”
Curry said Burgess is getting the ball inside the 5-yard line on kickoffs now.
“Kicking off and pinning them deep is huge,” Curry said. “We really didn’t know how to teach him, but he’s gone to some camps and learned a lot on his own. Now he’s getting the ball down to about the five, and if that happens this year, we’ll win that battle.”
With several key players in new positions and many returning in familiar spots, Curry said he feels good about the Warriors’ chances of being competitive.
“If we can win a couple of games early and get a little confidence, and I think that’s what we need right now, then I’d really feel good,” he said. “Anybody who comes out of our region has a chance to go deep in the playoffs. I really believe that. I like our chances. I think it’ll be a fun season.”