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January 24, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
The days of merely showing up and rolling over opponents are long gone for Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County.
And the program couldn't be happier about it.
The Georgia High School Association expansion to six classes - and subsequent redistricting of Regions - means the school will see much better teams much earlier in the season. The players can't wait.
"I am excited to put Camden back on the map," linebacker Rafael Hardee said. "We haven't gotten it done in the playoffs the last two season, but we weren't tested in the regular season for like two months. We weren't ready to see those types of teams."
This year Camden County lost to Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County, 32-31 on a last-second touchdown and two-point conversion in the third round of the playoffs.
The previous season it was a 28-26 setback to Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove in the second week of the playoff schedule.
Neither result fit the expectations of the team that was coming off of a 2009 state title.
Nor did it help head coach Jeff Herron with his goal to win a national title.
"I would like to finish No. 1 someday," he said. "I think most everyone does. When you play in a state like we do, and if you have a team that wins state, you can think about being in the discussion."
Herron has had to go out of state in recent years to build his resume.
Camden County will be moving from Class AAAAA Region 3 - widely considered the weakest in the state - to Class AAAAAA Region 1 - which could be considered the toughest in the entire country.
Gone are the weekly 50-point wins and short bus trips. Long road trips and competitive games will be the order of the day.
Its new Region opposition will be Brunswick (Ga.) High, Douglas (Ga.) Coffee County, Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County, Tifton (Ga.) Tift County, Valdosta (Ga.) High, and Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes.
"Soon as (the new regions) came out we immediately started talking about our new schedule," linebacker Jarrad Davis said.
"We're talking about it in the weight room, we know it's going to be tough, we know we have to work harder."
The talk spread from the weight room to another state as the group ventured to San Antonio to take part in the U.S. Army National Combine in early January.
"This year was kind of sketchy," Davis said. "We had an easy schedule. Since we're moving up, it is giving us a chance to prove that we're a quality team.
"We like the test."
So will most everyone that follows national-level high school football.
Each of the last two seasons Camden County has found itself in the Top 25 but has been found wanting.
The Wildcats early playoff exits have cause talk around the state that the team was a paper champion and did not have the wherewithal to play in the newly formed Region.
"We are motivated by it," Hardee said. "People telling us we can not do it is going to fuel this team. We are a hungry group of seniors that don't want our years to end early."
Camden County will be led on defense by Davis and Hardee, but the headliners on the team are on the offensive side of the ball with Georgia quarterback commit, Brice Ramsey, and do-everything J.J. Green.
Green is listed a defensive back in the Rivals.com database, but he was one of the most explosive offensive weapons on the Wildcats last season, rushing 71 times for 912 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. The receiving totals sound pedestrian, but in a Wing-T offense, they jump off the page.
Coach Herron called Green the best overall football player he has ever had in his 12 years at the school.
All of those players will be needed to go against some of the best teams in the country. Colquitt County, Lowndes, and Valdosta all spent time in the RivalsHigh 100 last season and each figure to be a part of that landscape again in 2012.
"I'd rather be in a close game than a game where we're blowing them out," Davis said.
That is good, because the blowouts are over.