After the loss of one of the area’s largest senior classes, the mindset around Laney is simple and to the point.
“Every spot is open. They’re coming every day to earn a spot,” coach Rodney McFadden said.
There’s a new sense of competition around Laney entering this season. In the past, the Wildcats had names firmly planted atop the depth chart, but the loss of 22 seniors means starting positions are up for grabs, and there could be learning moments for the team early in the schedule.
“It’s different from most seasons we’ve had here,” McFadden said. “It hasn’t been like this in a long time. I think the energy of the guys is good. They’re excited about having the opportunity to play. They can’t ride on big brother’s coattails anymore.”
Despite a talented senior class last season, Laney finished third in Region 4-AA behind state contenders Screven County and Jefferson County at 5-2 and 5-6 overall. The Wildcats lost their first five games, including thrillers against Aquinas and Evans, before reeling off five region victories in a row.
Picking up a No. 3 seed meant having to travel to Vidalia, where they suffered a third consecutive first-round playoff exit.
Laney will now turn to senior quarterback Mario Sumpter to carry the load.
The left-hander has been around the program since he was 7 years old and will be counted on to lead the team on and off the field. He was one of the most productive passing quarterbacks in the area last season and will seek similar results through the air while adding more yards on the ground.
“I want to be a better leader and better captain,” Sumpter said. “I’m trying to get more rushing yards this year so I don’t have to rely as much on my arm, and I can do both.”
Jarvis Washington will take the running back role along with Chad Welcher. Washington emerged as a potential breakout star in the second half of his sophomore year and ended with the team’s second-most rushing yards.
“By the end of the year, he was splitting time evenly, maybe more so on offense,” McFadden said. “This year we expect big things. He’s going to be that guy along with Chad Welcher to get those handoffs. It’s going to be their time to make some noise.”
Laney’s rebuild will perhaps be most felt on defense, where they return one starter and spots are up for grabs. The Wildcats have long been a consistent force on the defensive side, making this year new territory for the group.
Another tough schedule will give Laney an early indication of its talent level, with its first five games presenting the biggest challenges, including playing host to Thomson on Aug. 18 in the opener.
“Hopefully we’ve done enough over the summer to alleviate nerves going into the season,” McFadden said. “It’s going to be a lot of new faces, but I think they can get the job done if we keep working together and trusting each other.”
Reach David Lee at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.