It is now officially football season in Milledgeville.
Fans of the game can sate their appetites in a couple of ways tomorrow night when Georgia Military College opens its regular season tomorrow night against Navarro College at 6 p.m. on Davenport Field. The NJCAA preseason rankings released Monday make the meeting between the Bulldogs of Milledgeville and the Bulldogs of Corsicana, Tx. a Top 20 matchup as GMC enters opening week ranked 19th while Navarro stands at 18.
Bert Williams is entering his 20th season helming the local junior college football program. The Bulldogs finished 2018 5-5 overall, a record that included an 0-3 start where GMC lost its first three games by a combined nine points.
Like every offseason, Williams and his staff have worked to reload the roster for another campaign. Players reported to campus Aug. 1 for fall camp all in preparation to take the field for competition weekly over the next few months.
“I think the biggest things I've seen are consistent hard work, effort, and intensity out there at practice,” Williams said. “I can really only think of one practice over the entire camp where I was a little disappointed in the overall effort and intensity. That in itself is somewhat unusual. These guys are working hard.”
GMC’s returning players number in the high 20s and are scattered fairly evenly among the various position groups. One slot that has zero returners from a year ago is the most-watched one on the gridiron — quarterback. None of last year’s signal-callers are still with the program, and only one practiced with the team during spring, setting the stage for a QB competition throughout fall camp. Williams pointed out that ideally he would have liked to have named a starter well in advance of the Saturday before the season opener, but he wanted to see every rep, throw, and decision made before making that call.
“We knew it was going to take awhile and go up to our final scrimmage or close to it,” the head coach said. “We expected it to because they were all pretty much on equal footing.”
After weeks of evaluation, freshman Damekus Taylor has earned the start in tomorrow’s opener. A graduate of Thomson High School, Taylor comes having both thrown and rushed for over 1,000 yards as a senior and carrying many other high school football accolades.
“Damekus is going to get the nod for us,” said Williams. “His consistency improved over this last week. He can do some things with his feet that are helpful when he gets into trouble, and he continues to improve in the passing game. He’s not lightyears ahead of the other guys, necessarily, but he’s performed to the point where he deserves the start.”
Lining up beside Taylor in the Bulldogs’ predominantly shotgun offense will be Lakeland, Fla. native T.J. Jones who was the team’s leading rusher in terms of yardage last season. Williams said as many as three running backs could see time though with Thursday’s expected high temperatures.
Navarro enters the 2019 season under a head coach who may be new, but is no stranger to the program. Scott Parr was the NC Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator for three seasons before taking the same position at FCS school Eastern Illinois last year. He returned to Texas in January to head up the junior college program.
“He’s been there before as a coordinator, but you never know,” Williams said. “They might do some things a little different in the first game of the year, so you never know 100 percent what you’re going to get. You make the best guesses and preparations, and see if you can go out there and execute. We kind of expect to see the offense from ’15, ’16, and ’17, or something very close to it.”
Coach Parr’s Bulldogs’ quarterback situation is the complete opposite of GMC’s. This week’s visitors return sophomore Parker McNeil who was named an NJCAA First Team All-American for his play in 2018. He threw for 3,150 yards in Navarro’s 6-5 season, finishing with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
The GMC Bulldogs will be looking for their first win over Navarro since 2015. Recent history shows that the two teams always give one another a battle as three of their last four meetings were decided by a touchdown or less.
Not only will football fans be able to fulfill their craving for the game tomorrow night, they can also fill their stomachs as GMC’s Davenport Field will play host to “A Taste of Milledgeville” during Thursday’s contest. Several local restaurants will be on-site offering a taste of their menus to fans.
“It’s going to be warm, but at least it’s a 6 o’clock kickoff in August rather than a 1 o’clock kickoff in August, so it should be a little bit cooler,” Williams said. “We’ll have lots of good food and things to keep you cool, so I hope the town will show up and show out for the first college football game of 2019.”
Thursday’s kickoff between GMC and Navarro is set for 6 p.m.
For a complete look at GMC’s 2019 season, check out The Union-Recorder’s special football preview section, scheduled to hit stands Friday.