Preview: Ware County Gators

After one of the biggest wins in school history, the Ware County Gators settled for a mediocre season with an early exit from the playoffs. This year they return a showcase of starters and hope to go far.

Ware County began the season on a tear that began with a close win against rival Coffee County and ended with a huge upset of the #2 ranked team in the nation, Lowndes High school, 28-7. To that point, the Gator coaches had managed to hide the youth that pervaded the team very well.

Once the upset of Lowndes was complete, however, it became apparent that it had gone to the players' heads. This manifested itself the next week against the Valdosta Wildcats. Although the 'Cats didn't have a stellar team, Ware had its head in the clouds, and the Wildcats took the openinig kickoff deep into Gator territory and scored on the next play. Seventeen football seconds after the biggest win in decades for the Ware County football program, the youngsters had put themselves in a hole that they would never climb out of that night, as Valdosta won on the strength of that early score 21-7.

In the coming weeks, Ware lost virtually every important game of the season, going just 2-4 after the big win with a first round playoff exit to the tune of 47-37 in a game against a loaded Baldwin squad featuring prospects Darius Marshall and Wayne Bonner. The Gators fought hard at the end to make the score less indicative of the whipping that had taken place, but Marshall and the Braves were too much.

At one point, Marshall scored on three consecutive plays from scrimmage for Baldwin, and broke the game wide open. Much credit, however, goes to the Ware youngsters for not giving up and making the game closer than it should have been.

This coming year showcases a group of starters not unlike the group seen last year in the Swamp. Ware lost its starting running back and leading rusher, Eric Baker, and mammoth DL Gary Dulin to graduation, but those are the only significant losses.

Ware returns about 64% of its entire team (excluding the 9th grade team) from last year, and most of last year's starters come out of this group. A few of these could make statewide waves.

The first is 315 lb. OL Andre Ford. Andre will be a senior this year, and stoned many linemen last year with his size and surprisingly quick feet. Expect him to have a big year for the Gators. Another player to keep an eye on is junior Victor Daniels. A few inches short of 6 ft. and 175 lbs. isn't exactly what anybody would call football size. Victor, however, is one of the most elusive players I have ever seen in a high school uniform, and has plenty of speed to burn. If he makes it into the secondary, opposing teams may as well stop chasing him. He will likely project as a "scatback" on the next level, but plays the role of quarterback in Ware's rush-based offense very well.

One final area in which Ware should excel this year is in special teams. Ware returns PK Phillip Jordan for his final year of high school. Jordan was deadly from inside 30 yards last season, and pretty good outside of that. Expect the converted soccer player to have another great year for the Gators. Also, P Jack Fulford is expected to be in uniform. In his first year on the team last year, Fulford, already a popular kid at school, became a crowd favorite as fans in the Swamp watched him boom kick after kick into the night sky, pinning opponents deep. Fulford, the biggest reason why Lowndes has trouble making it out of its own territory in Waycross last fall, should have another spectacular season.

There will be a feeling-out process as Ware moves into a new Region to play many new faces in the coming months, but expect the Gators to come into the Lowndes game undefeated once again. The Lowndes game will be at the Concrete Palace in Valdosta, and the Vikings will be looking for revenge. They have, however, lost many of the skill players that made the difference for the 2005 AAAAA State Champions. I expect this game to be a battle that could go either way, and some reports out of Lowndes would seem to indicate the same.

The rest of the season is not particularly challenging until Week 11, when the Green and Gold play host to the defending AAAA State Champion Statesboro Blue Devils. I am hearing many things out of SHS, and they all seem to be good. The Devils have lost QB David Cone to Michigan and DL Alex Dekle to Mississippi State, but they don't need stellar quarterback play to win, and seem to reload at DL each year. I believe this will be a tough game for both teams, but one that will likely go in favor of the Blue Devils.

Ware County will have a good year, and will make the playoffs, barring a monumental collapse. There is too much talent in Waycross this year for that to be a likely scenario, so expect to see the Gators in the postseason. While the best chance they will have for a title will probably be the 2007 season, there is nothing prohibiting them from making a nice run into the playoffs this fall. As they say, anything can happen. All in all, it will be a good year for Gator football fans, with a chance of being a great year.

Expect to hear more from this team later in the year.

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