If you ask Alcovy football coach Kirk Hoffman's about the challenges the Tigers face going into a new region he wastes no time with a response.
"Speed," he said. "You have to be able to play the speed factor in that region."
In 2007, the Tigers went through the growing pains of a second year program. Although the team won just two games as a member of Region 8-AAAA, Hoffman said the numbers are deceiving.
"We were competitive last year," Hoffman said. "The first year, coming in with a new school, we weren't very competitive. But last year, we won two and going into the fourth quarter with less than two minutes, we were either winning or within two or three points several times. If we get a couple of breaks, we're looking at a .500 record."
The Tigers, who join Region 4-AAAA in 2008, return several
players. However, many of the team's key players will be first time starters that have been in the system for two years.
"We've had a great offseason," Hoffman said. "From spring practice to the scrimmage last week we've worked hard on being disciplined. We have a long way to go, but so does every other team out there right now.
"We might not have the experience we've had in the past, but we feel like we have a bunch of kids out there who can play"
Alcovy loses two of its premier wide receivers in Cody Edwards and Eric Strozier. Along with its two standout receivers, Alcovy also loses quarterback Ryan Ledford to graduation. Hoffman will look to seniors Kenneth Stokes and Altoine Wilson to step in at receiver while Malachi Outlaw is expected to be the workhorse at running back.
Four returning seniors anchor the offensive line and Hoffman expects them to stabilize the running game while allowing the quarterback time in the pocket to spread the ball to the receivers.
"We're big up front and have better than average speed," he said. "If they will just come together as a unit, they could be one of our strong points."
The Tigers will show teams a variety of formations out of a four wide set. Hoffman will implement new elements to the same formation he's run in the past and hopes to get Outlaw more involved out of the backfield.
"We've changed the offense a little bit to try to get people some more touches," Hoffman said. "We want to get Malachi out on the edge and we may look to get him involved more in the passing game with some screens and such."
Hoffman said the quarterback position is still a bit up in the air, but Patrick Tompkins has emerged as the favorite for the starting job.
"PJ Thompkins had a great spring for us and he worked hard over the summer, so we're expecting some big things from him," he said. "Rod Tolen, who I consider a good athlete, can come in and make some things happen."
The wild card could be David Ward who transferred from Las Vegas. Hoffman said he's picked up the offense quickly and gets better with each practice.
"We feel pretty good at the quarterback position going into the season," added Hoffman. "I've seen some good things from all three of those guys."
Hoffman insists he hasn't named a starter yet, but what he did say is that the Tigers could trot out two quarterbacks during the game much like the University of Florida showcased with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak during their national championship run in 2006.
"I wouldn't hesitate to go to a two platoon quarterback system," he said. "I'd do that in a heartbeat. You have to go with what the game dictates. If one guy is roiling, you go with the hot hand."
Hoffman knows Alcovy will have to run with teams in Region 4-AAAA rather than pound the ball, as was the case in the past where teams in Region 8-AAAA traditionally attack between the tackles. To prepare, the Tigers paid close attention to conditioning and strength training over the summer.
"We worked on just trying to get quicker," he said. "This region that we're going into is known for its speed and we have to either contain it or we'll be in for some long nights."
Alcovy has some options on defense heading into its season opener against Newton on Friday. Senior Matt Gunnels moves from linebacker to defensive end and returning starters Maurice Valentine and Ellis Brown solidify a veteran defensive line.
"I think in high school, you go as your defensive ends go," Hoffman said. "If you can control the corner, teams are going to have to choose to go inside or way out wide."
Starting linebackers Gary Wilkins, Bryan Daniels and Lucky Collymore also return and the Tigers will lean on Tolen to also play defensive back along with his offensive duties.
"He's as good a corner as I've ever coached," Hoffman said. "He plays outstanding football and knows the game."
Alcovy will run the same 3-5 defense they have the past two years and the unit as a whole gives Hoffman flexibility to change formations during the game.
Even though the Tigers will face new opponents in 2008, Hoffman is familiar with many of the teams from his time coaching in Henry and Spalding County. Playing in an unkown region can have benefits as none of the teams have done much scouting.
Depth is a concern, especially on the defensive line and he knows the difference between his team playing at a high level or not could be an injury away.
Alcovy's success will ultimately come down to how the team handles adversary and how well they can play against the speed they will see.
"We're going to have to control the corners on defense because we are going to see great speed," he said. "I really feel this year we have a chance to win every time we go out. In the past, that may not have been the case. But in this region, I can say when we play, we'll have a chance ever time out."