Originally created 08/27/99

Middle Georgia features state's first female kicker



Middle Georgia will make history on Saturday when Tonya Butler kicks in the Warriors' season-opener at Kilgore, Texas.

Butler, an all-star kicker at Riverdale High last season, reportedly will be the first female to kick in a college game for a Georgia school. Liz Heaston of Willamette University in Oregon made two extra points in 1997 and is the only female to kick during a regular-season contest for a four-year school.

Butler will be the Warriors' kicker for at least half this season. Incumbent Casey Sirmons broke a foot just before preseason drills and is out for at least half the season.

Butler's goal is to become the first female to receive a scholarship to a four-year school. Her brother, Tony, is a senior linebacker at Georgia Southern.

Savannah State: Its first game hasn't even been played yet, but Savannah State is already calling this a rebuilding year.

Announcing its theme as "Building for the Future," the Tigers enter the season with a new coach, seven players returning on offense and only three on defense. Last year's 7-4 squad had the top-ranked defense in the SIAC.

Offensively, the team will look to sophomore quarterback and Josey graduate Jermaine Brooks (1,455 yards passing despite a shoulder injury) for leadership. First-year coach Steve Wilks will depend on a more-mature Brooks to lead the team's option attack and solid running back corps.

The Citadel: Despite a 5-6 record last season, the Bulldogs finished the season strong by winning four of their last six games. To maintain that momentum, the Bulldogs will have to fill some holes on the offensive side of the ball.

The departures of tailback Stanley Myers and quarterback Antonio Smith left the Bulldogs without the bulk of their 1998 offensive production. The team will turn to senior Deon Jackson, who rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns last year, to pick up the slack at running back.

Two underclassmen, sophomore Chris Eckert and redshirt freshman Joe Call, will battle for the starting quarterback position leading up to the team's opener at East Tennessee State on Sept. 2.

Fort Valley State: Coming off its best season ever, Fort Valley State plans to challenge for a national title in 1999. The Wildcats finished 11-2 and lost in the second round of the Division II playoffs last season.

Georgia Military College: On the strength of last season's 10-2 record, the Georgia Military football team enters 1999 with high expectations.

The Bulldogs begin with a No. 3 preseason ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll.

Furman: Rebounding is the buzz word for a Furman squad aiming to improve from a 5-6 record and sixth-place finish in the Division I-AA Southern Conference in 1998.

The Paladins will have plenty of experience to draw from in 1999 as 17 starters and 47 lettermen return. Offensively, the team is hoping to iron out some inconsistencies that plagued it last year. Junior defensive end and North Augusta native Hershal Pleasant is part of a unit hurt by the graduation of All-American linebacker Orlando Ruff and a lack of depth at several positions.

Albany State: The Golden Rams are the preseason favorite to take home the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.

Whether the team can live up to the hype will depend on its strong defense, which had three representatives on the preseason all-SIAC defensive team. Strong safety Eugene Dorsey of Augusta, who ranked among the league leaders last year with six interceptions for 124 yards, will lead the way for the squad.

Rams coach Hamp Smith announced that this season -- his 24th at the helm -- will be his last.

Valdosta State: The Blazers are hoping to get back on track this season after a disappointing 5-6 mark in 1998.

Coach Mike Kelly assumed offensive coordinator duties and has some talent returning on both sides of the ball, but an extremely difficult schedule ahead with a home opener against Albany State and Fort Valley State the next week on the road.

Wofford: Despite closing the season with a 40-20 defeat of rival Furman and a near upset of Div. I-A Marshall, the Terriers face a difficult task in trying to improve on last year's 4-7 record.

The team will have to have some backups and younger talent step up on offense if any improvement is to be made this year.

Newberry: Improvement is likely to continue this season for a team that returns nine starters on offense and defense.

Record-setting and all-South Atlantic Conference junior quarterback Dustin Coats returns to lead the offense, while the defense will have to have someone to fill the leadership position left empty by the graduation of all-SAC linebacker Demedthrus Davis.

West Georgia: Defense is the name of the game this season for the Braves as eight starters return.

With seven starters returning on offense, West Georgia is one of the favorites to win the Gulf South Conference title if holes can be filled at running back and on the offensive line.

Presbyterian: Coming off of the best season since 1979, the Blue Hose will be hard-pressed to match last year's 8-3 mark after some big losses to graduation.

Offensively, the team's inexperience at the skill positions will be offset by the return of four offensive linemen. With only two players returning on the front seven, Presbyterian could be hurting on defense.

Benedict plays at South Carolina State this season. The Tigers have running back Andre Smith, who was The Chronicle's 1998 South Carolina area high school player of the year at Barnwell.

Morris Brown and Morehouse are expected to finish near the bottom of the SIAC this season. The SIAC rivals from Atlanta come to Augusta Oct. 23 for the CSRA Classic at Lumpkin Road Stadium.

Anthony Jones, a former Washington Redskins tight end and South Carolina State assistant from 1992-97, is Morehouse's seventh head coach during the 1990s, inheriting a team that didn't win a game a year ago. He replaced Frank Hickson, who was 0-11 in his only season as coach.

Morris Brown, 3-8 last season, will leave the SIAC after this season and move up to I-AA and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Clark Atlanta: Three-time All-SIAC punter Jonathan Thomas is still in Atlanta, but unfortunately the Panthers have very little else. The only returnee on defense is middle linebacker Bernell Harris, while three linemen and three running backs are back on the offensive side of the line.