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Gone are the offense’s top two playmakers, running back Marcus Cox and quarterback Brandon Goodson, two stars lost to graduation. Cox rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons, while Goodson threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 19 TDs over that same span.
Without those two in the lineup, the offense will rely on new go-to players in a new, multiple I-formation offense.
Aaron Grove and Chris Warner, both seniors, are in a competition to replace Goodson as the starting quarterback. Their targets are impressive receivers led by Zentavius Cobb and Kelan Fraise (pictured).
Heading up the running game is C.J. Mayes, who takes over as the Falcons’ starting tailback.
“(Mayes) will be the guy,” Dacula head coach Tommy Jones said. “He needs to get a lot of touches for us to be successful.”
The offensive front should be a strength, too.
Brandon Ake and Vance Coleman are returning as offensive line starters, while tight end Josh Lovin (moving over from fullback) and running back Bijon Sirleaf also are proven blockers. Lovin was a major part of the offense last season, both paving the way for runners and catching the ball out of the backfield.
“We’ve got a lot of experience in that spot,” Jones said of the offensive line. “All five starters have varsity experience.”
The Falcons’ defense must improve after allowing 31.3 points last season.
A group of young players earned valuable experience in tough situations a year ago, so their development brings hope for this season. The coaches also like the new faces in the lineup.
“Those guys are working hard to improve on defense,” Jones said.
Sirleaf doubles as the starter at noseguard, where he is one of the defense’s key players. He was a middle linebacker last season, but moved forward to shore up the defensive front alongside C.J. Brady, a returning starter at end.
Jones also praised Kevin Ficklin, an impact player and returning starter at safety, as well as another returning linebacker, senior Nick Mollica. The coach expects major contributions from young linebackers Jakob Brashear, Lawson Cook and Azeem Cooper.
Ficklin will be joined in the secondary by a handful of players who saw important playing time last season like Mayes, Jacque Evangelister and Bryce Bartlett.
CHANGE AT THE TOP
Dacula replaced longtime head coach Kevin Maloof, who led the Falcons from 1991 to 2010, with Jared Zito in 2011. Zito coached the team for two seasons, one good one (9-4, state quarterfinals in 2011) and one rough one (1-9 last season).
Zito’s resignation last year created the opening for Jones, who knows Gwinnett County and Dacula football well.
Jones played offensive line at Brookwood, where his father Tom was and still is the Broncos’ offensive line and strength coach, and Furman before starting his coaching career at Dacula. He was an assistant for Maloof during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Dacula hired Jones from Lumpkin County, where he was head coach the past seven seasons.
“It’s great here at Dacula,” said Jones, whose younger brother Philip also coaches at Brookwood. “This community is rare. There is a ton of support here. People are excited about the Dacula Falcons and what happens on Friday nights.”
Though Jones is making the jump to Class AAAAAA football, he said that sense of community in Dacula is a big reason why he liked the job. He enjoys the support for the football program, while also embracing the Falcons’ typically high expectations.
Dacula has made the state quarterfinals 10 times, reaching the semifinals in 1988, 1990 and 2005.
“That’s something we preach to our kids,” Jones said of the past Dacula successes. “We preach the history and tradition of Dacula. A lot of people played here before them and have done great things.”
The overall school enrollment at Dacula is one of the smallest in Class AAAAAA, but the football roster features 72 players in grades 10 to 12. This year’s freshman group fluctuates in the 45- to 50-player range. … The Falcons’ one-win season in 2012 was its worst record since 1985, when they went 0-10. They lost seven straight games to start last season before recording their lone victory, 31-8 over Shiloh. … Jones made a few new hires to his first staff, most notably offensive coordinator Brandon Worley, who was North Forsyth’s offensive coordinator last season. He also lured some former Dacula coaches who were still at the school but not coaching football back into the program, including strength and conditioning coach David Machovec, special teams coordinator Matt McDonald and tight ends/tackles coach Jason Holcombe.