Originally created 08/25/06

Warriors set sights on playoff win



LOUISVILLE, Ga. - Picture J.B. Arnold as a character in the comic strips.

Remember when they used thought bubbles to show what someone was thinking? Arnold would have two bubbles for this season.

"The first thing on my mind is our schedule," Arnold said. "It belongs in the Southeastern Conference. We've got mountains to climb the first month of the season. I'll put our schedule up against anyone in the area."

Burke County comes first. The Bears are the best team in the area not to make the playoffs the past two seasons, going 7-3 each time.

Then comes Baldwin. The Class AAAA school won 10 games last year and casts a tall shadow next to the Class AA Warriors.

The third power to open the year is Thomson. The Bulldogs are 44-6 since 2002 and have won four consecutive region titles.

"I wonder if anyone will say we don't play anybody now," Arnold said.

The comment reflects back to 2005 and the team's 10-0 start last year. One area broadcaster belittled the streak by saying the Warriors hadn't played anybody.

Anyone who looked at the records might have said that; the Warriors beat teams who went a combined 40-62 last year. And while their 35-8 win at Burke County would have been a quality win for any team, a 12-7 loss at home to open the playoffs didn't help that perception.

"That's part of the respect we are in the process of earning at Jefferson County," Arnold said.

He has a team capable of earning it this year. Senior quarterback Dennis Thomas enters the season with 32 career starts and 17 wins over two years. He's 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds with fast feet, a powerful arm and a corps of players to catch the ball.

"We've got the receivers this year," Thomas said. "They catch anything I throw them. It's the best group I've had here. And we've had some good ones."

Senior Tim Nelson (6-3, 235) is what every coach dreams his linebackers would look like. And 315-pound junior A.J. Harmon already holds offers to play at the college level at Auburn and Clemson.

Those talents will play key roles in popping Arnold's other thought bubble. Jefferson County has seven trips to the playoffs in school history.

And no victories.

"I don't give a rat about the first 10 games," Arnold said. "I'm setting my sights on November. We have to win a playoff game. We feel we've gained CSRA respect. We do not have state respect. The way you earn state respect is by winning playoff games."

Arnold is always seeking out an edge. His teams participate in summer passing leagues around the South. He buys old college playbooks on eBay to provide innovation.

He had a leaky defense in 2004. That was corrected. The Warriors didn't give up more than 14 points in a single game in 2005. Now, the offense gets an overhaul.

"This year I want to throw and run more," Arnold said. "We are not going to huddle this year. Not a single play. We may not win the first quarter. It may be ugly. But by the fourth quarter I want the other defense to be dragging. We'll see if they can keep up. I've looked around and this is what fits our talent and gives our team an edge."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.