Clinch County coach Jim Dickerson has a problem.
Senior starting quarterback Shane Burns is suspended for tonight's state title contest.
Speculation centered around an incident on the bus trip back from the team's semifinal victory at The Georgia Dome. The Clinch County Sheriff's Department has no record of any incident.
"All we have heard are rumors and speculation about what happened," Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson, Sr., said. "All of that was handled through the school system."
He referred information inquiries to the school resource officer. That resource officer referred questions to his principal. Clinch County principal Alvin Henderson would not take a call about the situation on Thursday.
"Mr. Henderson has no comment," his administrative assistant, Karla Daniel, said.
Dickerson chose his words carefully, even rescinding a comment he'd made about the chance Burns would take a snap in tonight's Class A title game.
The only reason he gave for Burns not likely playing was a violation of team rules. He cited an ethical obligation as coach of the team to teach values above the game of football to his team.
But then he sounded like he has an answer to that problem in freshman Vintavious Cooper. Vintavious is the son of A.C. Cooper, who graduated from Clinch with six state championship rings.
"His daddy was the greatest quarterback in Clinch history," Dickerson said. "His daddy goes back against Lincoln. He was the quarterback of the 1988 state champion team that beat Lincoln County in Lincolnton in the playoffs. We also had a state championship basketball team that year. He was the point guard. We also had the state championship baseball team that year. His daddy was the star pitcher. I don't want to put any pressure on him, but he's just like his daddy."
He did not elaborate on the fall competition between Burns and Cooper.
"They were very competitive for the starting job but we're not going to dig too deep in all that," he said. "This is one position and one player. One player is not going to be used as an excuse for this."
Burns was actually more the caretaker of his offense, not the main event. Clinch (12-2) wins with a strong ground game and great defense. Running back Justin Gainey was all-state and ran over the Red Devils in the semifinals as a sophomore. He's bounced back with a 1,700-yard senior season after missing most of last year with an injury.
He's one of three Clinch runners who've ran for more than 800 yards and eight yards per carry.
Cooper will probably not even be the most-watched Panther on the field. That will be senior defensive lineman Eugene Kinlaw. Georgia coach Mark Richt is expected to be at tonight's game to watch him play.
The 285-pounder is known to remove his shoulder pads and perform somersaults flat-footed at midfield after Panthers victories.
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