Defending champions Fitzgerald stage another title run
“Really, 4-0 doesn’t mean a hill of beans… but I feel like we’re growing and improving week by week. I see some things pointing in the right direction, so we have to keep the good state going. spirit and continue to do the right things every day.
Last year, it was the defense – led by EJ Lightsey, now at Georgia – that anchored the team, while the offense aimed to shorten play by running the ball. Pruitt wonders if a player of Lightsey’s caliber will ever come back through Fitzgerald, and with the defense mostly young or inexperienced, it’s the offense relied on the most this year.
La Cane fired eight of 11 starters on offense, but defensively, Pruitt said the team was experiencing the same growing pains as the offense last year, when the defense was more experienced. AJC preseason all-state selection Daniel James anchors the cane defense, alternating between defensive end and linebacker.
“Daniel James is our guy,” Pruitt said. “He’s been one of the few regular positions we’ve had on this defence.”
They start two sophomores at linebacker, Oreian Bly and Dewayne Westbrook, the position played by Lightsey.
“They just have to go out there and play, make mistakes and learn from them,” Pruitt said.
So far, the Cane has shown its game-changing ability. For example, last week, defensive back DJ Brown had two interceptions against Madison County.
On offense, the Cane brings Sultan Cooper back to quarterback, although Pruitt admitted that at this stage of the season his skills aren’t maximized as most of their playmakers are running backs. The Cane doesn’t have a workhorse like DeNorris Goodwin was last year, and instead uses a stable of 5-6 running backs, including Laphabion Boone, Sylon Davis, Cam Jackson, Diondre Paschal, Ty Solomon and Tyler Williams.
Davis, Williams and Paschal all rushed for touchdowns last week.
“They all play defense too,” Pruitt said. “So if you’re not tired, come in and do your reps.”
They also return three junior linemen in Levon Simmons, Christian Riggins and Wade Pierce, who join Xavier Walker senior.
Region 1 has changed over the past two reclassification cycles, shedding traditional 1-2A rivals Brooks County in 2020 and then Thomasville this year. After a goodbye this week, the Canes opened their regional schedule by welcoming a Dodge County Indians team new to Region 1, but with which they are familiar.
Last season, the Cane played Dodge County twice — Sept. 10 as part of their out-of-region schedule and then in Round 1 of the playoffs — and escaped with 15-6 wins over the twice.
The Indians are 1-3 so far this year, but Pruitt said he was unaware of Dodge County’s slow start.
“I’m not going to fall into that trap,” Pruitt said. “(Fitzgerald’s games last year with Dodge County) were close and could have gone either way, so I know the caliber of athletes they have there. All of their offensive-skilled kids are back and they’ve got a lot of speed. I’ve seen the scores (of the Indians’ losses this season) and for me it doesn’t match (with the talent they have). I know what they’re capable of, and every Friday nights when you don’t play your best, you risk getting beaten.They have a lot of talent and we have a lot of respect for them.
Although the region has new teams like Dodge County and Jeff Davis, the Cook Hornets remain and, at 3-1, are ranked No. 6. Worth County (4-0) has already tied its winning total from last season In first year. coach Jeff Hammond.
“It’s a different area but I don’t know if it’s less of a headache,” Pruitt said.
Cane’s stated goals each season, according to Pruitt, are to beat Irwin County, win the region and win the state. Last year, they accomplished two of three, with the winning region of Thomasville. La Cane, of course, would go on to beat Thomasville in the championship game anyway.
At this early stage, all three goals are still intact thanks to Irwin County’s win.
No 2A team has repeated as state champions since Buford (2007-10), but Pruitt’s framing of this year’s title chase is no repeat.
“We really don’t look at it from a rehearsal perspective,” Pruitt said. “It’s a new team, new staff and a new year. Those seniors are gone. We have new management. It’s its own chapter. But our goal is definitely to win a state championship, and we know that if we are able to do it, it is because we have been able to do it on a daily basis. But it is so far away.
“We don’t go from the bottom of the ladder to the top. You have to take one step at a time, and focused right now, we’re focusing on that.
For more on Tucker Pruitt, check out his interview on Ep. 48 of The Class 2A Blogcast, which will be published shortly. Check back here for an updated link or follow AJC’s Class 2A reports on Twitter.