The defense took the lightest hit from the mass exodus of seniors from last year's squad, returning four starters. Defensive tackle Devaris Leonard, commonly known as "The Bus," will be a third year starter and should continue making cameo appearances as a running back in the powerful Plowboy set for short yardage situations. All three Vikings that rotated at defensive end last year return as well: Jack Schroepher and Joe Rogers will likely stay at DE while Krys Brooks returns to line backer, where he played as a back up in 2004. Coming into spring practice there was talk of moving Rogers to nose guard but this idea seems to have met with some resistance and will likely not happen. While these four players should provide an excellent foundation for the front seven, there are still three holes to fill in the Vikings 5-2 scheme, all vacated by All-Region players from 2005. The consensus seems to be that line backers like Eric Wright and Blake Summers as well as linemen like T.J. Manning, Devin Simmons, and Justin Thornton will be able to plug these holes however. The secondary will have to be completely rebuilt as all four starters as well as the three most used backups from last season are gone. The cupboard may not be as bare as it seems though; the corners and safeties may be young but are very talented and will develop as the season goes on and having a very good defensive line and group of line backers in front of them will make their job easier. The secondary will not be what it was in any of the previous three seasons- with a few notable exceptions where those groups looked unprepared and fell apart during individual games- whether or not they grow into a solid unit by region play or the playoffs figures to be an important factor in the Vikings success however. Avoiding those huge meltdowns in coverage like we saw in the 2003 Valdosta game and the 2005 game at Ware County, both of which resulted in loses, will be imperative as well. If our 2005 team couldn't win a game after such a let down in the secondary, it's a safe bet this team will not be able to either.
The offense returns only one starter from 2005; fortunately he is a very good one starter to have. Rising junior Darriet Perry will be starting the second half of his career after rushing for over 800 yards in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Perry is in prime shape to rewrite the record books at Lowndes for running backs: with 1,689 yards rushing in his first two years he is already only 1,428 yards away from breaking Lynn Williams' record for career rushing yards only a year after Williams set the mark. Lynn's departure, as well as full back Stanley Dixon's, should greatly increase the number of touches Perry gets and a 1,500 yard season is certainly not out of the question. After all, Lynn Williams ran for 1,407 yards rushing as a junior in 2004 when he was sharing the backfield with Perry as well as an excellent duo of fullbacks in Octaviues Everett and Marlon Jones.
Though Lowndes may return only one offensive starter, the numerous blowouts of the last two years have allowed the coaches and fans to see several of the younger players develop and there is unmistakable talent that now seems posed to offer significant contributions. Darriet Perry may be somewhat of a feature back but he still will not be alone in the back field. Rising senior Gregory Anderson has never started a game but played significant minutes last season and has the size and speed to be a formidable back. For much of the '05 season diminutive rising junior Jawon Smith wowed the Concrete Palace with his foot work and acceleration while playing at wing back in late game situations; as the season progressed though he was seen less and less and now appears to have been passed on the depth chart by Anderson. Smith still figures to play a prominent role in the Vikings back field however and will be given the chance. Rising junior Tavaris Williams became a contributor near the end of the season at full back and looks to be solid running between the tackles in the coming season. Ronnie Mitchell played a lot on Friday nights at quarterback last season as a sophomore and looked very well rounded. He may not be as fast as departed three-year starter Doug Belk but he can still run and probably throws a better ball as well.
The biggest question on the offense is the line; all five starters from 2005 are gone. Senior Chad Culpepper will be solid and might have started at tackle last year if not for injuries during the pre-season. The rest of the line is unproven against varsity competition but has played together in large part in the lower levels so we can at least expect them to work well as a group.
Finally, both the kicker and punter are gone from last year as well, not to mention punt return specialist Steven Hunter.
With seven starters gone from the defense, 10 from the offense, and virtually the entire special teams array from the 2005 State Championship gone the 2006 season will undoubtedly be a rougher test for the Vikings. The schedule is tough also with Harrison, Central Gwinnett, and Ware County all on the palate before beginning region play brings teams like Valdosta, Warner Robins, Tift County, Houston County, and Colquitt County. Lowndes fans can take comfort in a few facts heading into the rebuilding year: Randy McPherson is still the coach and has a career record of 117-16 with three State Titles across two states in only 10 years as a head coach, Darriet Perry is well on his way to becoming a legendary running back, and the defensive front seven looks to be excellent once again. Don't write the Vikings off for a 5-5 or 6-4 season just yet.