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JMA returns in 2021 with high expectations

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The John Milledge Academy football team has won two consecutive GISA AAA state titles.

The Trojans are hoping for a third straight title in 2021 under head J.T. Wall. However, they have to replace a lot of production on both sides of the ball after graduating 23 seniors in the spring.

Wall, who is entering his 11th year with the program, is confident in his players that are returning.

“We graduated a huge senior class last year,” Wall said. “We lost more than 20 guys to graduation. Despite returning a few starters on both sides of the ball, I think that the guys returning are going to step up and play well.”

The Trojans open up the season on Friday, Aug. 27 against Brentwood on the road in Sandersville.

Wall highlighted that this will be the first test of the season for a lot of the juniors, who are just now learning to be leaders for the program.

“This upcoming Friday night will be the first time a lot of these upperclassmen will be starting,” Wall said. “We’ve got a lot of players with experience, but it’s a little different this year because we are now expecting them to contribute more. However, we are confident that these guys can succeed.”

Wall said that despite some new faces in the mix, the bar is still set high.

“The guys in those spots are transitioning well,” he added. “They know the expectations are still the same and those don’t change from year to year. So, the blueprint is there. But, whether we can follow it or not is a different story. So, we’re still looking forward to seeing who steps up.”

John Milledge Academy ran a dualthreat, two quarterback system last season with seniors Grayson Hopkins and Patrick McDonel, which account for most of the offensive production. So, now the Trojans will turn to junior Briggs Eady and freshman Kolt McMichael to step up and lead the offense.

Wall pointed out that both have been taking split first-team reps since the beginning of fall camp.

“Both of those guys have handled themselves well,” he said. “We’ve had a few scrimmages and they’ve both looked great. I think they have improved vastly since summer workouts.”

Out of the backfield, the Trojans return Javian Butts and Jeremiah Hill. Both had productive seasons and combined for nearly 700 yards and five scores in 2020. Senior wideout Marcus Prestwood is also another skill player that returns for the upcoming season. He led the JMA offense in receiving by hauling in 560 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Prestwood was an All-State selection last season,” Wall said. “We also return Chaze Gottard, who is also a senior wide receiver. Buck Veal is another player to watch at receiver. So, I’m excited to see what those skill guys can do. We should be fine on the offensive side of the ball, despite only a few starters returning.”

After losing leading tackler Je’Mazin Roberts in the offseason, the JMA defense returns three starters from a season ago. Junior linebacker Banks Eddy finished the 2020 season with 63 total stops, which was second on the team. He will be anchoring a Trojan defensive backfield that also had big contributions from Prestwood and Hill as well during the second state title run.

“Dawson Smith is a senior linebacker that had 40-plus tackles last season and he is coming back,” Wall said. “Having Javian (Butts) and (Jermiah) Hill go both ways is huge as well. Banks will be a leader, too. Those guys have developed well over the last few years. Now, we will get to see them pick up where they left off. We’ve also got some younger guys competing for the starting positions on the defensive line.”

The Trojans have rattled off 24 consecutive wins over the last two seasons. However, it’s certainly not something that is concerned about keeping hold of. In fact, he tries not to think about it and encourages his players to not get complacent.”

“I’m just going to take this season on a game-by-game basis,” he said. “That’s what I have preached to the team, too. I’m just glad that we get to play JMA football again, especially after a long year off.”