2023 season preview: A new era of LaGrange College football begins
Published 8:30 am Tuesday, September 5, 2023
The LaGrange College football team is going through a period of transition. After five seasons in charge, Earl Chambers was let go after the team struggled to a 1-8 record last year. Now, it is up to first-year head coach Wes Dodson to rebuild the program.
“We are trying to build a family first culture here and that’s how we started in the spring,” Dodson said. “We want guys out there that care about each other and that’s what we’ve been instilling in them since we got here in the spring.
“There is a lot to be said when you know and care about the person next to you.”
The Panthers went through an extensive coaching search before deciding that Dodson was the right man for the job.
After the 2008 season in which the Panthers went 9-2, LaGrange College has not been able to finish with a record above .500, Simply put, the Panthers do not have a track record of success, but Dodson believes the program has all the tools to turn it around.
This will be a true transition year for the Panthers. There is a new head coach, but also a plethora of new players on campus as Dodson is making sweeping changes to the program right away.
“It is all about changing the culture here, because we have some of the nicest facilities in Division III, so it’s about getting the right people in here,” Dodson said. “We have found some good players out there that want to be a part of LaGrange College.”
The Panthers will be relying on young players more than in recent seasons. This will come with a ton of pros and cons as the team sorts through who the best fits in the lineup will be.
“I think we had a really good spring with the limited number of players we had,” Dodson said. “We have done a pretty good job recruiting and we are pretty excited with the players we have heading into the pre-season.”
LaGrange College will be playing in the USA South, the only sport along with Lacrosse that did not join the Collegiate Conference of the South. It is a tough conference that Dodson knows well.
“I have seen a lot of the teams play and I know there are some really good teams in the conference,” Dodson said. “All the teams are really well coached. We have our work cut out for us; it’s a tough conference.”
The Panthers will have not have Shedrick Lindsey, who threw for over 4,000 yards and 35 combined touchdowns in his three years as a starter. Fortunately, LaGrange College will return a couple of players that have some experience — junior Rashod Brockington and sophomore Cam Long.
“We have two guys on the team coming back from last year,” Dodson said. “They were with us in the spring and both played pretty well then. We are counting on them to be leaders for the team.”
Brockington is the only one of the two with real game experience. He threw for 44 yards and ran for another 55 yards as a sophomore.
Andyn Garris, Maxwell Favre, Jaden Mann and Tyon Waiters will all provide depth at the quarterback position.
“We are also bringing four quarterbacks in,” Dodson said. “Two of them are coming out of high school and two of them are junior college transfers.
“Hopefully once we get into camp we will figure out a starter, but it will be difficult for all of them as they learn a new offense,”
Dodson’s offensive philosophy is predicated on running the football. Aubrey Carter, a junior and the second leading rusher on last year’s team (278 yards) will return to the fold this year along with fellow junior JayDon Cooper, who finished third in rushing on the team a season ago with 256 yards.
“We had a couple of running backs already on the team that are good, strong players,” Dodson said. “I’m hoping with them we can really run the football.”
Antonio Altman, Devontrez Blake, Goldman Butler, Kolby Crawford, JaVonta Elliott, Jakilen King and Zyon Wilson will all provide depth at the position.
“One of those guys is a junior college transfer, but the rest of them are freshman,” Dodson said.
Devonte Scott is returning for his junior year and is likely in line to start. He finished last year with 10 catches for 90 yards.
“I think Devonte is probably the best guy that we have coming back,” Dodson said.
The Panthers will also have junior Jaden Smith back in the fold, who finished last season with 11 catches and 92 yards. Dana Lucas, a senior, is also back for the 2023 season. He appeared in five games last year in which he registered three catches for 37 yards.
“Hopefully we have a home run hitter in there that is going to take the top off of defenses,” Dodson said. “I think wide receiver might be the strength of out offense this year, because we have the most guys returning at that position.”
Braylen Cook, Tyronn Deen, Isaiah Johnson, Fredrick Jones, Malachi Kelley, Nicholas Kotulak, Marcus Lane, Anthony McCants, J’Kyvious Wortham and Quashawn Wright will provide depth at the position.
LaGrange College will have to replace All-American tight end De’Queze Fryer, who put together one of the best careers in program history. Fryer was the team’s leading receiver last season with 433 yards and eight touchdowns and totaled 1,594 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns during his three years as a starter.
“You can’t really replace that caliber of player,” Dodson said. “It is going to have to be by committee.”
Keith Kpodar, a senior, has been in the program for a few years now and could see himself earn a starting role as a tight end this season despite playing receiver last year. Troup alum Jake Lane, a sophomore, will also figure into the equation at tight end as well.
Ryan Melia and Gabriel Winfrey will provide depth at the position.
“Our offensive line is going to be our biggest challenge,” Dodson said. “We are going to have to find a way to piece things together and get the job done.”
Triston Ware, Jordan Bolden, Jacob Brim, Trenton Harrison, Tito Hernandez, Aidan Hurndon, Colby Lee, Zach Neighbors, Slade Parker, Alvin Rogers, Jahvon Wells, Hayden Hovan and DaMien Settles will all figure into the offensive line equation as Dodson still sorts through who his best combination of five players.
“We have to be really careful in practice, because even though we have some good players up front, we don’t have a lot of depth and we can’t afford anybody getting hurt,” Dodson said.
“I’ve been a 3-3-5 defensive guy for a while now,” Dodson said. “It is easier in Division III to find linebackers and DBs than it is to find defensive lineman that can really play.”
Deavyn Anthony, Julian Brown, Davis Fugate, Quan’tae Gage, Kenneth Garrett, Jaydin Glover, Denver Griffis, Jaylan Harris, Timothy Hill, Jaimon Hillard, Christian Lewis, Dontre Mike, Matthew Moore, AJ Rogers, TorRenz Smith, ToMari Vinson, Bryan Williams and Kynden Williams will all compete for snaps along the defensive line.
Junior Chris Guthrie is back as one of the starting linebackers and will provide leadership for the defense. Guthrie missed almost half the season last year,mbut has totaled 53 total tackles and five tackles for a loss in his first two seasons as a Panther (15 games).
“He is a really good leader for us and we are hoping he will be back and ready to go for us physically,” Dodson said.
Isaiah Beaubrun, Jalen Jones, Demon Jones Sullivan, Ashton McPhaul, Nick Pittman, Jordan Robinson, Yavari Scott, Zion Turner, JaHtavion Weickerson and Curtis Wilson will battle out for the other two linebacker spots.
Renardo Faust had an outstanding freshman season and returns to the fold for his second year at LaGrange College. He finished last season with 27 tackles, three interceptions and a sack. Nehemiah Caesar will also bring some experience to the secondary and has totaled 24 tackles over the last two seasons with LaGrange College. Sophomore Deon King Jr. received some playing time last year as a freshman and totaled 12 tackles. Xean Wasef Hajbeh has been in the program for two years now and looks to get into the mix in the secondary as well. He has received sparse playing total in his first two years, racking up seven total tackles.
Davon Adams, Jasharie Anderson, Anthony Antinozzi, Davaun Bouie, Traveon Clayton, Kevin DeBruce, David Pope, Jakai Reed, Malik Rogers, Jaden Sanders, Chase Shelton, Calvin Sneed, Keyon Stoutemire and Shaun Wilmore will all fight for reps in the secondary.
Alberto Bibian, Landon Eaker, Cole Harper and Brandon Matson will compete for the starting kicker and punter positions.