As the Buccaneers completed spring practice two weeks ago, their primary focus was evaluating the young talent that’s expected to replace nine of 11 starters on both the offense and defense.
Still unsure of an identity, more time was spent going back to the basics than in years past.
Allatoona will be graduating leading rusher T.J. Herron (1,322 yards, 20 touchdowns), quarterback Jeremy Uzee and receivers Tommy Davis and Clarence Solesberry. Also departing are defensive backs Terrance Sykes and Traboris Tarver, who combined for six interceptions last season.
“We’re young and inexperienced with not a lot of guys with varsity experience,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “It’s a feeling process right now. The biggest positive coming in was the energy and enthusiasm of the kids, not knowing if they are starting or not.”
The good news for Allatoona is that it is returning Justin Wade at linebacker, Garrett Hall is coming back at defensive end, D.J. Ezell is back at wide receiver and Amir Moore returns at offensive tackle.
The Buccaneers will have to replace their entire secondary. Varner said he graduated all of his starters and backups.
They will likely have a starting quarterback with little to no varsity experience, but they will have tailback Josh Bettistea returning after he split time with Herron last season. Bettistea had 1,190 yards and nine touchdowns on 149 carries, but the rest of the offensive backfield unit are expected to be new.
Allatoona will also have to groom a new offensive line for the second straight year. Last year, Varner replaced seniors with seniors on the offensive front. This year, he will be developing juniors with a year’s less experience.
“Last year’s linemen were untested, but they were seniors who have been playing and were waiting their turn,” Varner said. “Now, we have four juniors who don’t have experience, and that’s the scary part, but they’ve worked hard. They had a good spring, but they’re still juniors.”
Allatoona’s defense will likely be centered around Wade, who was third in the county with 144 tackles in 2012. It was Wade who made the final play in Allatoona’s second-round upset of M.L. King in the state playoffs, when he pressured Lions quarterback Roland Rivers into making an incomplete pass.
Allatoona’s other returners weren’t as productive a year ago, but they are still expected to contribute. Ezell had 346 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Hall came away with two sacks.
For the Buccaneers to avoid a rocky start, the returning starters will have to set an example.
“This is one of those weird situations that snuck up on us,” Varner said. “Our young kids look good, but we don’t have a lot of experience coming up.”