How can you top the best Abbeville football season this century?
It’s a tall order. Coach Robin Tyra, going into his sixth season leading the Yellow Jackets, is going to try.
The ultra-competitive Tyra hasn’t forgotten how last season’s amazing ride ended. The Yellow Jackets finished 10-2 with a second-round loss in the playoffs to Luverne. It was their first 10-win season since 1994 and only the fifth 10-win season in school history for the Jackets, who started playing football in 1921.
“The way we ended up, we played our worst game at the worst time against a really good Luverne team,” Tyra said of the 41-20 defeat.
The Jackets are ready to move on, but they’ll be doing it without three of their four Class 2A all-state players – first-team defensive back and halfback Jaquon Kincey, second-team quarterback Daquon Kincey and second-team defensive lineman Keven Mills.
They do have talent returning. The other all-state performer – senior lineman Zayne Peterman – will start his fifth season on varsity. Four starters on offense and six starters on defense return, including the 5-10, 225-pound Peterman, who will play on both lines of scrimmage.
Tyra acknowledges this team will be different.
“We’re finding a new identity,” he said. “The numbers are going to be smaller. I mean, nothing’s hidden. We return a small but good group of athletes. … Are we going to be up or down? It’s going to be what leaders step up and keep it held together.”
There is a core group of veterans that has Tyra feeling optimistic, led by the noteworthy story of senior Nathan Hall. Position changes from one season to the next aren’t unique in high school football. Running backs become receivers, quarterbacks become running backs and receivers become quarterbacks with some frequency.
But Hall’s position change at Abbeville looks pretty unique. He was the Yellow Jackets’ starting center last year. Right now, Tyra said he may be the starting quarterback.
Hall typified last year’s self-less, team-first attitude, the coach said.
“Last year my center tore his ACL before the season started,” Tyra said. “We went through about four or five guys trying to see who would do it. Nobody wanted to do it. Now, Nathan’s been my starting fullback the last two years. Knowing we were going to be forced to play a kid who really wasn’t ready and we weren’t comfortable with, Nathan just walked up and said, ‘Coach, I’ll do it.’”
It didn’t take long for Tyra to see Hall wasn’t just doing the job, he was excelling at it.
“I realized, ‘I’ve got a center that’s a running back and can think and he’s smart and he can move,’” the coach said. “He made that whole offensive front something special. He’s calling the blocking and everything.
“Just seeing that leadership – putting the team first instead of running the ball – it made him a different player. I wanted him in the backfield, but that kid took it and stepped in and helped lead us to that 10-2 season. He’s the model of what we’ve been trying to do here.”
This season, Abbeville has to replace some amazing skill position talent. Hall is on the move again, behind center at quarterback.
“That’s the ability of that kid,” Tyra said of Hall. “He knows our offense. Started as an eighth-grader and been on the field since that time. Last year we put him in at quarterback late in some games. His first snap he went 50 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s going to be a kid who ends up taking snaps. He knows the offense, understands everything, knows where everybody’s supposed to be. I’ve been fortunate to have good kids like that. That’s where we are.”
Martavious Glanton, a 5-11, 185-pound junior, has the inside track at running back.
“He played a lot there last year,” Tyra said. “He finished the year with about 800, 900 yards.”
Another junior, Rico Dozier (5-11, 190), will get reps both at quarterback and running back, the coach said.
“Really, he’s our leader on defense,” Tyra said. “He’s going to take a bigger role. He’s just a physical kid. What we do isn’t a secret – we run the ball. I’ve got some guys that can do it and are physical and can bring it downhill on some folks.”
Devion Smith, a junior lineman (6-2, 230), projects as a starter on both sides of the ball.
“He plays hard, getting more mobility in his hips and he’s able to move,” Tyra said. “He’s going to be a kid that’ll be pretty special. In a couple years he’ll be the first kid you see because he’s going to end up towering above everybody else. He’s a good kid and was a big part of what we did on defense last year.”
Sophomore Gabriel Shell likely will start at tight end and junior Jayven Anderson is going win a job at wide receiver.
Randy Glanton should be a halfback and Eric Truitt will also see action in the backfield, likely at fullback.
Tyra said the team’s strength may be on defense.
The defensive interior is back. The linebacking corps returns. Only in the secondary – which lost three outstanding playmakers – is suspect. And the return of Martavious Glanton at safety could erase some of that group’s mistakes.
“Him back there is big,” Tyra said. “His instinctual play, being able to cover in our three-high stuff, with him being out there the last three years, it’s got to convert this year for him back there.”
Peterman, Truitt and Smith are the interior defensive linemen. The ends likely will be Hall and Shell. And the junior trio of Dozier, Anderson and Randy Glanton line up at linebacker.
There are experienced seniors at Abbeville, but not a big number of them. Instead, a large junior class will have to contribute.
“Juniors are going to be ones that have to tote the weight this year,” Tyra said.
Abbeville has kept to itself since last season. There was no spring game. There is no preseason jamboree, either.
“We’ve just focused on us,” Tyra said. “We’re going to keep the offense the same. We’re not going away from our wing-T.”
The coach said it’s going to take a lot of players understanding their roles and staying the course of what the goal is.
“Our numbers will be down, but the leadership has got to show up,” Tyra said. “But everybody has to understand that what we did in the past means nothing to what we’re going to be. … I think we can be competitive and at least be a thorn in some folks’ side.”
YELLOW JACKETS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Robin Tyra (5th year at Abbeville, 28-27; 13th year as a head coach, 56-72)
>> 2018 record: 10-2 overall, 7-0 in Class 2A, Region 2, second round of Class 2A state playoffs
>> 2018 results: at Ashford (W, 22-15); at Cottonwood # (W, 52-7); at Geneva County # (W, 32-7); Houston County # (W, 44-17); at Pike County (L, 14-20); Ariton # (W, 30-0); at Daleville # (W, 54-0); at Barbour County # (W, 40-0); G.W. Long # (W, 44-10); Headland (W, 32-27). STATE PLAYOFFS: Vincent (W, 56-0); Luverne (L, 20-41)
>> Points scored/per game: 440/36.7
>> Points allowed/per game: 144/12.0
>> Returning offensive starters (4): QB Nathan Hall (Sr., 5-10, 195); RB/QB Martavious Glanton (Jr., 5-11, 185); OL Zayne Peterson (Sr., 5-10, 225); OL Devion Smith (Jr., 6-2, 230);
>> Returning defensive starters (6): NG Eric Truitt (Sr., 5-8, 160); DT Zayne Peterman (Sr., 5-10, 225); DT Devion Smith (Jr., 6-2, 230); DE Nathan Hall (Sr., 5-10, 195); LB Rico Dozier (Jr., 5-10, 187); LB Jayven Anderson (Jr., 5-9, 165)
Aug. 30 Ashford
Sept. 6 Cottonwood #
Sept. 13 Geneva County #
Sept. 20 at Houston County #
Sept. 27 Pike County
Oct. 4 at Ariton #
Oct. 11 Daleville #
Oct. 18 Barbour County #
Oct. 25 at G.W. Long #
Nov. 1 at Headland
# Denotes region games