Photos Andy Calvert - L-R: #34 KOLBY DAVIS-RB/LB #64 LEM AZLIN-CENTER #11 DJ ROGERS-RB
2020 RECORD: 5-5 overall (4-1, REGION 7-AA)
HEAD COACH: Rick Hurst (45-23, 1 region championship in 6 seasons at Pepperell; 111-69 overall)
ALL TIME RECORD: 750 games – 408-328-14 (55%)
TOTAL SEASONS: 71 FIRST SEASON: 1937 ALL STATE PLAYERS: 82
REGION CHAMPIONSHIPS: 4 (2016 LAST)
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1 (1990 LAST)
The 2020 Season was full of promise for the Dragons as they had 17 senior starters and were ready to make some noise in the AA Classification. Then, boom! The pandemic caused a late start, shorter times in the weight room, and disruptive adjustments in how things were done. Then, double boom! They lost their starting quarterback, and everything got harder.
Despite a rough start to the season, Pepperell finished second in their region and advanced to the playoffs, falling in the first round. “I’m glad we got that season in,” says Coach Rick Hurst. “I’m glad those seniors got to play.”
Pepperell will have a young team in 2021. “We have a lot of youth,” says Hurst. “In saying youth, I mean we have a lot of sophomores that will be playing in various positions. But we also have juniors and seniors that have never played in a meaningful situation on a Friday night. So, even though they are upperclassmen, they are young as far as experience goes.”
Even though he was thrown into the fire unexpectedly, junior Matthew Waddell manned the quarterback position very well. Going through the offseason receiving the bulk of the reps allows Waddell to continue to grow and improve on his 2020 play.
In the backfield, the Dragons have one of the best running backs in the state of Georgia, junior DJ Rogers. Rogers carried his team to the tune of 157 rushing yards per game and 18 rushing touchdowns, even while every team knew he was getting the ball. Look for Rogers to do more of the same as the Dragons offensive tradition is smashmouth football and Rogers is just the back for that.
Pepperell has depth at receiver as senior Jon Shields and junior Gage Owens have the upper hand to emerge as starters for the season.
On the offensive line, the Dragons are working to establish an identity as they are not very big but are tough and will be ready for the regular season. Senior center Lem Azlin, a starter since his sophomore year, is expected to have a great season.
Senior middle linebacker Kolby Davis and Owens are the returning tackle leaders from last season and will be leaned upon to have big production this season. The Dragons gave up 23 points per game last season, so Coach Hurst knows his defense must reduce that number significantly for success this season.
Shields can also be a playmaker in the defensive backfield this season.
On the defensive line, senior nose guard Brennen Tillery, who routinely commands double teams nearly every snap, will be counted on to lead the defensive push up front.
“We’ve lost a lot of good players over the past four or five years,” Hurst says, “and it’s tough to replace those kinds of kids, but I like the direction we’re going.” He adds, “Every coach knows when you’re young, you’re going to take your lumps, but it will definitely pay off down the road a few years from now.”
“Everyone is going to see a lot of players they may not have heard of before,” says Hurst, “and we are hoping these players can grow up and become really good.” He goes on to say, “We want to win, and our goal remain the same: we want to win Region 7-AA, no matter what.
But I do have realistic expectations that we have some guys that are going to have to grow up in those first four games (all non-region), and that’s a tough four games I scheduled. I did that to prepare us for the region schedule and the playoffs.”
The Dragons have made the AA playoffs for 6 consecutive years. They are poised to take even bigger steps than they have in the past, but this year there will be some growing pains associated with those steps. With health and work, they could be a factor come late November into December.
2021 GAMES OF SIGNIFICANCE
- 8/20/2021 vs Haralson County
Dragons look to avenge last seasons’ 10-28 opening loss to the Rebels.
- 8/27/2021 @ Heard County
The Braves jumped out on the Dragons in the first half of last years’ contest and Pepperell could not recover, falling to Heard by a score of 29-36.
- 10/1/2021 @ Fannin County
This is a game that will help decide the region champion. The Rebels handed Pepperell their only region loss in 2020, 36-23.
- 10/22/2021 vs Model
Rivalry Game. The Dragons have won five consecutive games in this series.
- 11/5/2021 vs Coosa
Rivalry Game. Pepperell has also won five consecutive games in this series.