Banks County to continue rebuilding process

Year two of the Al Pollard era at Banks County High School is set to begin. The veteran football coach, with more than 125 wins to his credit, will look to continue rebuilding the Leopard program this fall as BCHS competes in a revamped Region 8-AA. Pollard's Leopards open the new campaign Sept. 1 on the road against non-region foe Jackson County.

Pollard, who has also been a part of numerous rebuilding processes throughout his career going back to the early 1980s, does have some talent this year. The coach is concerned that his team is young overall, but a strong group of underclassmen should mean good things down the road.

"We're still working hard," Pollard said recently. "Things have gone a little smoother this year. We had a good off-season program and the kids seem eager for the season."

Pollard will look to senior Dexter Ledford to help lead the BCHS offensive line in 2006. Ledford, who will be a three-year starter, has actually been a varsity letterman since his freshman season. Pollard said Ledford has the ability to play at the Division II or even I-AA level.

"There's no doubt, he has the potential to do well," Pollard said during the pre-season. "Most of the younger players look up to Dexter. If they see him working hard, then they are going to work hard."

Another senior the BCHS coaches are excited about is fullback Tyler Smallwood. Playing tight end a year ago, Smallwood has been moved to the offensive backfield because of his strong blocking ability and work ethic. A depth of players at tight end also helped make the change possible.

"We felt by moving Tyler to fullback it would utilize his best strengths," said BCHS offensive coordinator Rob Moffett. "He's our best blocker, and we also believe it was beneficial for us to put him in front of Justin (Beasley) in the backfield."

Beasley, who will be just a sophomore in 2006, got tested early in his varsity career by competing as a freshman. The speedy, younger player will line up at tailback in Pollard's I-formation offense. Pollard, who has coached several standout backs in his career, said Beasley has the potential to be one of the best he has worked with.

Senior quarterback Chaz Elrod returns after moving into the starting position early in the 2005 season due to injuries to other players. Elrod has been getting a look at quarterback during pre-season practice along with other players.

Playing at the AA level, depth will be a concern for BCHS, like most schools of its size. Smallwood will also be counted on at linebacker. Coaches are hoping to give him some rest by not playing him on special teams, but noted he is such a standout player for the team that it will be difficult to take him off the field.

Throughout Pollard's coaching career he has always stressed the importance of the players on the offensive front. The 2006 season is no exception.

"For us, the offensive line should be a strong point this year," the coach said recently. "Even though we are young, I still believe our line has a chance to be a solid group. The character of any football team goes back to the line."

In addition to Ledford's play on the offensive front, Pollard and BCHS offensive coaches will look to senior Jacob White; juniors Chace Brown, Ryan Reeves, Chris McDuffie and Seth Cape; sophomores Thomas Baker, Tramane Mayfield, Billy Pinson, Tyler Hulsey and Lynn Hester.

In addition, Pollard even expects freshmen Clint Caudell and Kevin Daniel, who were playing at the middle school level last fall, to see time on the varsity level in 2006. The head coach said both players have strong potential.

"The very identity of a football team depends on what you do up front," Pollard said. "To be really good, you have to have skill people, but without the people up front, you won't get it done."

Jeff Van Tone returns as the Leopard defensive coordinator and, like Pollard, has a wealth of coaching experience on his resume. Van Tone was the head coach at Eastside High School in Covington from 1994-2004 before moving to BCHS as part of Pollard's initial coaching staff prior to the 2005 campaign.

Van Tone said BCHS should have more team speed on defense this fall. One of the areas which hurt the Leopards last year was an inability to catch opponents, the defensive coordinator said.

Pollard has a large freshman class in the program this season. A total of 21 freshmen are on the pre-season roster. These players were part of the Banks County Middle School team which won its league championship last fall. Pollard, like all high school coaches, would like to keep these players in the program through high school which would give BCHS a legitimate chance at being competitive.

"We are young overall," the head coach said. "We still have a ways to go, but we are making strides. It takes time to build a program."

The revamped region BCHS will compete in should also benefit the program. Gone are state powers Buford, Greater Atlanta Christian and Wesleyan. Region 8-AA will be subdivided for at least the next two years with the Leopards competing with Rabun County, Union County, Fannin County and Dawson County in one sub-region. Two region cross-over contests with Washington-Wilkes and Greene County are also on the schedule.

BCHS opens the season with non-region games against Jackson County, North Oconee and long-time rival Commerce.

In a preseason media poll of sports writers who cover Sub-region 8B-AA, the Leopards were picked to finish fourth in the subregion this fall. BCHS was selected second by one voter.

Dawson County was the preseason selection to win the sub-region followed by Fannin County, Rabun County, Banks County and Union County. Dawson County received four of six first place votes while Fannin County received the other two.

The BCHS Leopards will open sub-region play Oct. 13 against Rabun County. The team hosted Union County the following Friday.

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