LINCOLNTON, Ga. — Through four decades and 470 victories at Lincoln County, Larry Campbell has the Xs and Os of coaching high school football pretty much down pat.
His biggest challenge, as always, is harnessing expectations.
“Most places you go 11-2 last year, you’re OK,” Campbell said of his team that reached the Class A public school semifinals a year ago. “Lincoln County, anything other than a state championship they’re not pleased completely. We can’t do no more than what we’re doing with our kids.”
With enrollment down and the rest of the prep world caught up to the off-season regimen that has always made the Red Devils such a consistent success, keeping up with the ghosts of the past is no easy task. Campbell’s teams have won 11 state championships since he took the reins in 1972. The Red Devils have won multiple titles in every decade going back to the 1960s, but they are looking for their first title shot since winning back-to-back in 2005-06.
How will his 2013 team stack up?
“We’re not bad and we’re not great,” Campbell said. “Do we compare with some of the teams in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s? No. But are we going to be a pretty good Class A football team? I think so.”
The Red Devils lost to graduation a host of receivers – including two-way stars Zireycus Letman and Jalen Franklin – and their entire linebacking corps. But this year’s squad isn’t without plenty of returning talent.
The most important element is senior running back Mike McIntire, who rushed for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards last season, averaging 7.34 yards per carry. Adding depth in the backfield is junior Jamar Norman, who also averaged 7.34 yards a carry in more limited rushing but offered explosiveness on special teams with four kick return touchdowns.
Quarterbacks Ben Turner – the 2012 starter – and Lakeith Lockhart both return and Campbell says it will be a “game-to-game” decision who takes snaps and who plays wideout instead.
“We only had to replace two starting offensive linemen, that’s a plus,” said Campbell, who welcomes back senior Andy Ray Wengrow from a broken leg last season. Junior two-way lineman Jaquan Leverett suffered a torn ACL during spring track and the timing of his return is uncertain.
Defensively, the Red Devils’ strength will be in the secondary, where Norman and Lockhart are the top returners.
“Year in and year out it’s kind of what we’ve relied on, period,” Campbell said of his defense.
The Red Devils were eliminated at home in the state semifinals last year by Dooly County. Lincoln County hasn’t reached the championship game since 2006.
“We’re really hungry. We haven’t been to the Dome in a long time,” said McIntire. “I think we’re all ready to get back there and hopefully win another one. Hopefully we’ll go out with a bang and win a championship and leave it for the seniors next year to continue this legacy that Lincoln County has.”