2018 Record: 6-5 overall (5-2, REGION 7 AA)
Head Coach: Rick Hurst (31-15, 1 region championship in 4 seasons at Pepperell; 97-61 overall)
All Time Record: 727 games – 393-320-14 (55%)
Total Seasons: 69 First Season: 1937 All State Players: 76
Region Championships: 4 (Last in 2016)
State Championships: 1 (Last in 1990)
8.23 at Darlington
9.6 vs Pickens
9.13 vs Heritage
9.20 vs Gordon Central
9.27 at Coosa
10.4 vs Model
10.18 at Rockmart
10.25 at Dade County
11.1 vs Armuchee
11.8 at Chattooga
In 2018, the Pepperell Dragons only had one of two results in their football games.They either won by at least two touchdowns or lost by at least two touchdowns.
Of the Dragon’s 11 games last year, only one was decided by less than 12 points. Finishing third in the region, however, won PHS a playoff berth and their season ended with a loss in the first round of the GHSA playoffs.
“We started the season off really slow,” says Pepperell’s Head Football Coach, Rick Hurst. “We lost our season opener to Darlington, then we traveled to Pickens County to play a really good football team and they took it to us pretty good making us 0-2. We, as coaches, then challenged our seniors, and the next game we came out with a good win versus Heritage High School. I felt pretty good because we played three really good football teams and that’s what we want to do here at Pepperell, try to schedule teams that are difficult outside of the region.”
Pepperell followed the Heritage win with three consecutive region victories to put themselves in position to make the playoffs and then ended the regular season splitting the final four games. In those weeks, the Dragons had injuries to players, including both the starting and backup quarterbacks that derailed the Dragon’s season early in the playoffs.
“We felt that in 2018 we were not where we wanted to be, and the players and coaches have had a really good offseason because of that,” says Hurst, while laying out the 2019 season, his fifth with PHS. “The schedule is the same as last year. We open up with the same three really good teams, starting with Darlington at their place. We expect a huge crowd and a great matchup for that one. Then we host Pickens County and Heritage here at home. After those three games we go into region play, and if we can get out of the gate with a decent start, we’ll be okay. I believe there will be a lot of parity this year in 7 AA.”
After losing 13 seniors from last year and only having 11seniors set to play in the upcoming season, every one of them is expected to contribute and lead the Dragons. Head Coach Rick Hurst is optimistic that Pepperell can make some noise again this year. “We have a chance to be a pretty good football team if our seniors continue to lead the way they have been so far, and our younger guys continue to get better throughout the year.”
Coach Hurst and offensive coordinator Bobby Rhoades will have multiple weapons at the skill positions on offense this season. “We are an experienced team at our offensive skill positions,” Hurst continues,”especially at wide receiver and quarterback. At quarterback, there is Gage Moses (junior) who can run and throw. You could see a big difference in us when he went down due to injury last season. We’re actually fortunate because we have two really good quarterbacks.”
The other quarterback is Shannen White, an upcoming sophomore who suffered an injury towards the end of last season. “It is a nice problem to have, having two quarterbacks who are top quality kids, and can run and throw,” explains Hurst.
At wide receiver, there is Payton Rhoades (senior), a highly recruited player. Other impact receivers will be Tray Robinson (junior) and Ryan Hurst (senior). A player who will contribute as a slot receiver and help in the backfield is Josh Ross (senior).
Even with the wealth of talent at the skill positions, football is a game won in the trenches and Coach Hurst is happy about his guys up front.
“On the line we have Dawson Duncan who is a junior left tackle, and he has a chance to be a big-time player,” says Hurst. Other returning starters on the offensive line include juniors Preston Goggans and Clay Crawford.
“Those are three guys that we will have to lean on pretty heavily. We have to determine the other two spots, but I like the direction our young linemen are going this year, and as we know, the linemen are the guys that make things happen. If those five don’t play well it doesn’t matter what our skill position guys do,” says Coach Hurst, with a look of appreciation for the offensive linemen, and for their position coach. “My offensive line coach, Zach Battles, is probably one of the best offensive line coaches in the state of Georgia. He is a PHS graduate and a great football coach. He’ll get us where we need to be up front.”
In AA football, players (especially skill position players) have to play both ways. With a young 65-man roster and only 11 players being seniors, Pepperell will have players going both ways. Coach Hurst is proud of the unit. “I like what I’ve seen this summer defensively. We’re flying around and we’ll probably be as quick and as strong as we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” he says.
Josh Ross, in addition to his offensive duties, will be returning as the starting free safety for the Dragons’ defense. An All-Region player in 2018, Hurst brags on his senior playmaker. “Josh is just a tremendous football player. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He is a big hitter, and a guy that just makes plays.”
Cornerbacks Ryan Hurst, a senior, the head coach’s son and an All-Region defensive back last season, and junior Tray Robinson team up with Ross to cover the Dragons’ defensive backfield. Hurst describes them as, “two very good corners, technical kids and can really play football. Our coaches recently informed me that Ryan was out of position one-time last year on a big pass in a region game. Normally, when the ball is thrown his way, he is always in the right position to make the play.”
Senior Jake Chandler will lead the linebacking core along with juniors Will Helton and Drake Miller. The defensive line features junior Levy Lane at one defensive end, and senior Tyler Liggons, last year’s sack leader and a described by his coaches as a freakish athlete.
“We’re fortunate to have our All-Region punter Payton Rhoades returning. He is a left-footed guy and when he hits it, he hits it,” says Hurst.
“Kicking off is a big weapon, if you can consistently pin your opponent to the 20 yard line, and they must go 80 yards every time, especially if your offense is clicking, it’s pretty demoralizing and I know, I’ve been on both ends of it” says Hurst with a laugh.
Hurst and Wright are also battling for the extra point and field goal kicking duties. “When we get inside the 20, we have to be able to put it between the uprights if we can’t get six. Good high school numbers for kicking game success are 50-75percent on field goals and 95-100 percent on extra points. If we hit that, I’ll feel good about it. We are also solid in our return games. We take them seriously and work them weekly. We want points out of those two teams.”
Going deeper into the program, Hurst speaks on his junior varsity program.
“Some of our juniors who don’t get a lot of time on Fridays will play Thursdays. It will be competitive, we pretty much play teams in our region, plus a few local area teams” says Hurst. “What I want from JV is to improve every week. Wins and losses, yea, they matter, but it’s those guys getting on the field, getting snaps, getting reps in a game situation that’s going to ultimately get them ready to play on Friday nights. As long as we’re competitive and as long as we’re improving week in and week out, I’m good with our JV.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been really successful in middle school. They won a few championships in a row and have had some really good players come thru there. I’m involved with the program, but I’m not trying to run it. I don’t want to feel like I’m running the program. I want my guys to feel like its theirs” says Hurst.
Pepperell middle has a new coach, Kyle Harris, who is a Pepperell graduate. He has had good numbers through the summer. “I’m excited for Kyleand I believe he and I will have a really good working relationship in terms of what they do. He has been helping out every year on the sidelines on Fridays so there is familiarity,” says Hurst. “I let them know that they can’t do everything we do, there’s no way possible. We want them to know the basics when they get to high school.”
Pepperell opens their practices to the youth coaches and kids and have a youth night yearly. “They try to do some of what we do also, but their biggest job is to keep the kids together and focused on being a Dragon all the way through and that’s the important part,” Hurst saysproudly. “Our community is very involved. Football is a huge part of what this area is about. Our program is from elementary school all the way up through high school, so it means something to the people and that’s a good thing. And as long as that’s good, then you’re always going to have a chance to be competitive in your region.”
In addition to being appreciative of the community, Hurst is very appreciative of his coaching staff.
“I have a really good coaching staff, a lot of good, knowledgeable guys and they are the ones that make it happen. They are the ones in the trenches every day making sure the players are doing what they are supposed to be doing at each position. I give these guys all the credit in the world for our success here the last few years, even though we lose guys, our players and coaches are why this place continues to be what it is.”