Photos Andy Calvert - L-R: #48 CHRIS MCCLUNEY #8 WILL BAGBY-WR #12 PATRICK SHELLEY-QB/S
2020 RECORD: 7-5, overall (2-2, REGION 7-A)
HEAD COACH: Tommy Atha 157-63, 5 region championships
ALL TIME RECORD: 1,000 games – 601 – 363 – 36 (62%)
TOTAL SEASONS: 110 FIRST SEASON: 1910 ALL STATE PLAYERS: 79
REGION CHAMPIONSHIPS: 10 (2015 LAST)
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1 (1998 LAST)
Everyone dealt with the pandemic and all that came with it in 2020. For some, it made for a not-so-pleasant, uncomfortable season. Coach Tommy Atha will tell you that he saw it all in a different light. “I was pleased with the season overall,” he says. “You never want to lose that last one, but we played in 12 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Considering the COVID protocols and all of the unknowns, I consider it a blessing that we got to play 12 games.”
Darlington’s all-time roster high is 53 players, as a school that size never has tremendously large numbers. If the Tigers’ season started today, they would have a 48-man roster. “That’s very encouraging,” says Atha. “The roster is evenly spread amongst the classes, and we have a good senior class.”
Leading the Darlington offense in 2021 is a dynamic playmaker, senior Patrick Shelly. He’s a versatile quarterback, quick and agile with the ball in his hands. Atha gives quality time to another quarterback, too, senior Jack Payne.
“We’ll be big up front, and we feel good about that,” says Atha. “The team will average around 270 pounds across the front, which is huge for us. Now, we have some small guys, and we have some really big guys.” Atha smiles. “That’s how we get that average.”
Darlington will be young on the line. The team only has one senior on the starting offensive line, 6’2” 290-pound Christian McCluney, alongside three juniors and one sophomore.
Junior DJ Johnson, a former lineman, is now the starting tight end and has surprisingly great hands.
At wide receiver, Darlington has senior Will Bagby, and the squad picked up a late addition in junior Hyland Thomas, who has the potential to have a huge impact on this offense.
The running back position will be manned by committee, a young group at that. A few of the ball carriers will be junior Bowden Owens and sophomores Tommy Bethel and D’marion Floyd.
On the defense, Darlington will still be young, but the guys will have had some on-field experience.
On the line there’s junior Gatlin Hancock, a high-energy kid who’s always on go. The Tigers also utilize McCluney, a superb run stuffer.
The linebacker position will be a by committee assignment manned by a multitude of players.
In the defensive backfield, there will be Floyd as a lockdown cornerback, and others will fill in the open positions as preseason work continues.
Yes, Darlington is young. “We’ll have some experienced players and some inexperienced,” says Atha, “and the inexperienced are going to have to catch up pretty quick.”
As for the team, the head coach sees them gelling in a great way. “This group is close-knit,” he says. “The team concept resonates with all of them. They play for each other. They will play with a chip on their shoulder. On top of that, we had some regular season losses that didn’t sit well with them, and they want to rectify that. Everyone is geared up for it.”
2021 GAMES OF SIGNIFICANCE
- 9/10/2021 @ Heard County
This is a big game for Darlington. They fell to the Braves 30-35 last season.
- 10/1/2021 @ Bremen
This is one of those regular season losses that didn’t sit well. The Tigers fell 20-21 to the Blue Devils at home last year.
- 10/15/2021 vs Christian Heritage
Region Game. Darlington can potentially clinch a playoff berth with a win. The Tigers lost 24-31 last year at their place.
- 10/22/2021 @ North Cobb Christian
Region Game. Darlington can potentially win the region with a win. The Tigers lost 10-28 last year at home.