CONYERS - The Salem football is looking to reload and make another run at the Region 8-AAAA championship this fall.
To do that this season, the Seminoles will have to overcome some youth and inexperience.
"We are going to be young at some positions," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "But we are excited about our young players."
Last year, the Seminoles reeled off nine straight wins to claim their third Region 8-AAAA championship in the last four seasons. Salem finished the season with a 9-2 record with a loss to St. Pius in the opening round of the state playoffs.
Salem paid a heavy price at graduation, losing standout quarterback Terrance Davis, 1,000-yard rusher Alex Miller, wingback Sammy Ahonen and guard Danny Quach on offense as well as defensive end Zach Roddenberry, linebacker Alex Wilson, and defensive backs Kris Sykes and Corey Shields.
"We lost a lot of great players who could do special things from last year's team," Estes said. "I think this year we will have to play well as a team with so much youth and so many new starters playing."
On offense, center Sam Watts, who already has verbally committed to Mississippi State, is back to anchor the offensive line. Also back are tackles Nick Dennis and Blake Hullett as well as wide receivers Dramel Oubre and Cody Davis.
At quarterback, sophomore Jarrett Brown takes over for Davis, who is now at Mississippi State. Sophomore Tyone Elliott is also in the mix at wide receiver.
Up front, sophomore Jordan Jackson has taken over at one guard spot, while Joseph Morovich and Deion Samuels are battling at the other guard.
Defensively, the Seminoles return several key players from last season, leading the way is senior defensive end Brandon Hill, who led Salem's defensive line with 83 tackles and 10 quarterback hurries last season.
Junior DeJone Butler is back at the other end, while junior Jeremy Holland also returns at nose tackle.
Hill and Butler should be a strong combination at end. Estes said Hill is one of the best players in the region and Butler gives his team fits in practice.
The secondary is well stocked with experience. Juniors Jasijah Smith and Tyler Askew are back at safety forming a tandem that Estes calls, "the best pair of free safeties in the region."
Senior Deontae Fletcher and junior Tyrell Wellington return at the strong safety spots in Salem's 3-3-5 defense alignment that uses safeties as linebackers.
The cornerbacks are sophomore A.J. Smith and junior Josh Bailey, while the linebackers are senior Marcus Davis and junior Dontavious Price.
"Our defense will be our strength. This year's team can really run," Estes said.
At kicker, Joseph Schneider will replace the dependable Koy Manget, who was lost to graduation. Cody Davis is slated to be the punter.
One of the highlights of this season for Salem will be its new on-campus facility - Seminole Field - which will host its first game next week when county rival Rockdale pays a visit.
"I know the Salem community is excited about having their own stadium," Estes said. "I hope everyone comes to Seminole Field for the home opener on Sept. 5 against Rockdale."
The Seminoles open the season Friday against their other county rival, Heritage, at the newly revamped Evans Memorial Stadium, which they had shared with the Patriots since 2001.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Salem football
Coach: Chad Estes (third season)
Last year's record: 9-2, won Region 8-AAAA championship, lost to St. Pius in first round of state playoffs
Key returning players: Tyler Askew, DeJone Butler, Cody Davis, Nick Dennis, Deontae Fletcher, Brandon Hill, Jeremy Holland, Blake Hullett, Bradley Moon, Dramel Oubre, Jasijah Smith, Sam Watts, Tyrell Wellington
First game: Friday vs. Heritage at Evans Memorial Stadium, 7:30 p.m.