CONYERS -- The Heritage High School football team is in an unfamiliar position as the 2011 season kicks off tonight.
In 2010, coach Chad Frazier's fourth season at the Conyers school, the Patriots went 7-3 and finally reached the Class AAAA state playoffs after a 12-18 record in Frazier's first three seasons. And despite losing to Marist in the first round last November, the Patriots come into the new year as the only county team looking to return to the state playoffs. That journey starts tonight at Salem Stadium as the two old rivals meet for the 18th time. For Frazier, the rivalry games are exciting, but getting them out of the way early is ideal. He expects nothing but the best effort from the host Seminoles, who will try to even the all-time series at 9-9.
"This is our fourth year in a row (playing Salem on opening night)," Frazier said. "I like playing these big rival games early (and) they've got some good athletes."
One of those athletes is Jahaad Coleman, the multi-talented running back who gave opposing defenses fits at times in a disapponting 4-6 season for Salem in 2010. Salem's offense will have to improve after averaging only 15.3 points per game and scoring 14 points or less six times in coach John Starr's first season.
"They've got some speed in the backfield with Jahaad Coleman. They run the ball very well, the offensive line's got good size," Frazier said.
Coleman will go up against a Heritage defense that is looking to replace several key members off a unit that allowed less than 20 points per game, namely linebackers Toby Brotherton, Travis Martin and Damion Ridge. Frazier was happy with some of the newer faces on the defensive side of the ball in the Patriots' scrimmage victory over Eastside.
"We got a lot of new faces on defense this year. I was glad to see those guys moving fast, recognizing the plays, swarm tackling," he said.
On offense, Frazier is confident in new quarterback Ryan Sutton. The sophomore will go up against a Salem defense that allowed single-digit points just twice and surrendered more than 24 points per game.
"He's just a very poised, strong leadership guy... he's a no-nonsense business type approach in the huddle," Frazier said. "He's just got good command of what's going on with the offense."