For complete Peachtree Ridge coverage throughout the season, including rosters and schedules, go to the Lions' page on the Daily Post's prep sports site: www.gwinnettprepsports.com/peachtreeridge.
It won’t be hard for the offense to get off to a better start this season.
Peachtree Ridge went scoreless in its first two games last year, losses to Camden County and Parkview. It finally broke through in Game 3 for a 28-21 win over Duluth, but the unit still saw mixed results throughout 2012.
“The team attitude is work mode and they’re doing everything we’ve asked them to do offensively,” Peachtree Ridge head coach Mark Fleetwood said.
The returning starters include running back Jordan Ellis, a Virginia commitment. He had a standout junior season, putting up a lot of his 691 rushing yards and eight touchdowns late in the year.
“(Ellis) just got better and better as the season progressed,” Fleetwood said. “He’s a multi-faceted back. He catches out of the backfield, he blocks and he runs the ball hard.”
Ellis will get help from two other talented tailbacks in a deep Lions’ backfield. Senior Trevor Campbell and junior Na’ceem Antenor, a speedy transfer from Pennsylvania who will return kickoffs, also are capable backs.
The wide receivers also are impressive with versatile Myron Burton (pictured) leading the way. H-back Kendall Cobb also is an experienced player, while the offensive line returns Tennessee commit Orlando Brown (6-8, 345) and Blake Best.
Those returning players will make life easier on a new starting quarterback, junior Chance Thrasher. He was 14 of 29 for 160 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in limited time last year.
“He’s a quarterback, that’s his true position, so his nature of learning the offense and leading the offense will be strong points,” Fleetwood said of Thrasher. “He’s a competitor, too. He doesn’t like to lose. He’s an extremely hard-working young man.”
Like the offense, the defense had an up-and-down 2012 season.
It gave up 42 to Camden County, 41 to Collins Hill and 36 to Norcross, but held Parkview (three points) and Mill Creek (20 points) to some of their lowest outputs of the seasons.
Linebackers Dru Moody and Aaron Harris return from that defense as starters, as do Laceem McCall and Walden Davis.
“Up front, the depth (on defense) seems to be better,” Fleetwood said. “The linebacker position is the one area we want to shore up. We’ve got players there. We’re just trying to find the right mix. In the secondary, we’ll be better than we were last year athletically at every position.”
Free safety Joe Smith is poised to be a playmaker, Fleetwood said, while Davis, Travis Bowers and Jaquan Gibson also are good players. St. Pius transfer and Georgia commit Nick Glass is working at one of the linebacker spots, where Alex Byrd and Josh Forrest also are projected starters.
“It’s the same thing for us on defense,” Fleetwood said. “We want to be able to stop the run and maybe put a little more pressure on the offense.”
Last year’s record — and playoff-less finish — was uncharacteristic for the Lions.
They had posted seven straight winning seasons until 2012, which saw them go 4-6, their worst mark since back-to-back one-win seasons in 2003 and 2004, the first two years the school was open.
“I don’t think the team was content with it at all,” Fleetwood said of last year. “Their attitude was, ‘Let’s go to work.’ And they have. The overall work ethic since offseason conditioning and training started has been great. I think that will equate to better things on the field.”
Peachtree Ridge notched four victories over teams it was supposed to beat last season (Duluth, Habersham Central, Mountain View and Meadowcreek), but it couldn’t break through against the other top-tier teams in the region.
The Lions came close a few times, watching leads slip away in heartbreaking losses to Mill Creek (20-10) and North Gwinnett (24-20). Then there were more lopsided setbacks to Norcross (36-3) and Collins Hill (41-10).
“I’m excited about this season and looking forward to it,” Fleetwood said. “There’s a lot to answer for from last year. That was unacceptable by the community, by me, by the faculty, by the administration. Year in and year out, we want to be one of the top programs in the state. That’s our goal.”
Peachtree Ridge’s coaching staff features two new coordinators, Chuck Allen with the offense and Phillip Hale with the defense. Allen was a North Gwinnett assistant for six years before spending last year at Jackson County and Hale has coached at North, Shiloh and Archer in recent seasons. Fleetwood also hired Heath Webb, formerly at Flowery Branch and North Paulding, to coach the quarterbacks. … One of the biggest spots to fill from last season is in the kicking game, where Connor Rouleau graduated. Senior Evan Pantels is expected to take over in both the kicker and punter roles.