ATHENS — Athens was young and inexperienced last season. That means one thing, of course: The Hornets are older and more experienced in 2013.
Athens, a year after going 4-7 and reaching the playoffs, returns nine starters on offense and defense for the upcoming football season. That makes the Hornets a legit contender for the District 15-3A championship, although defending champion Van is considered the early favorite.
“We played a lot of young players last year,” head coach Paul Essary said. “It helps a little bit because they know the system really well and they’ve been in the heat of battle.”
Anthony Sanders, a senior, returns for his third season at starting quarterback to pilot the Wing-T offense. The dual threat completed 50 of 131 passes for 835 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, plus carried the ball 157 times for 812 yards and 12 scores.
Sanders is like having another coach on the field, Essary said.
“He knows where everybody is supposed to be,” Essary said. “We are able to expand our offense a little more. He’s a leader on the field and a leader in the weight room. That always makes it better for us.”
Devin Hall, a junior, headlines the running backs following a campaign with 812 yards and 12 TDs. The Hornets’ main concern is the receiving corps, but they take comfort in knowing their offense is designed around the running game.
On defense, K.J. Cumby (6-1, 215) anchors the linebackers unit after registering 138 tackles and four sacks last season. Fellow linebacker Chris Jefferson (6-3, 215), who suffered injury problems last season, has verbally pledged to SMU.
Nose guard Nic Fincher (6-2, 245) registered 63 stops last season.
“I feel like if we stay healthy we have a chance to have a really good football team,” said Essary, whose team would meet an opponent from District 16-3A in the opening round of the playoffs. “We’ve got some excellent teams on our schedule but we have just as good a chance to compete.”
Athens Hornets 2013 Football Schedule
Aug. 30Kaufman7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6at Spring Hill7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13Gladewater7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20at Rusk7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27Palestine7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11Canton*7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18at Van*7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25Mabank7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1at Mineola*7:30 p.m.
Nov. 8Brownsboro*7:30 p.m.
* — District 15-3A game