Coach: Hal Lamb (128-28 here; 133-43 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 3/6/1
Remember these names: Furman's loss was Calhoun's gain when Bobby Lamb, Hal Lamb's brother, left the university to begin the program at Mercer. Son Taylor Lamb (Jr., 6-1, 185) has transferred to Calhoun and will assume the quarterback duties in this high-octane spread offense. Among the other players being counted on to replace departed all-stars are WR Chase Rierson (Sr., 6-3, 200), WR Clay Johnson (Sr., 6-foot, 170) and RB Darius Washington (Sr., 5-9, 185), the son of former Calhoun great "Famous" Amos Washington. One weapon that does return is K Adam Griffith (Sr., 5-10, 160), the University of Alabama recruit who is a threat anywhere from 55 yards and in.
Will be a memorable year if: The new offensive starters, most notably the line, pick up where the guys they replaced left off. The line, where Tyler King (Sr., 6-2, 270) is the lone returner, is of particular concern, though line coach Dain Clark seems to rebuild this unit every season without the offense missing a beat. The only goal that matters for the Jackets is winning a state title, where Buford, which has defeated Calhoun in the past three title games, is again the favorite.
Aug. 26 Dalton
Sept. 2 at Armuchee
Sept. 9 at Pepperell
Sept. 16 Chattooga*
Sept. 30 at Sonoraville*
Oct. 7 at North Murray*
Oct. 14 Gordon Central*
Oct. 21 Dade County*
Oct. 28 at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7B-AA game
The 2005 Calhoun team is widely considered to have had the best defense in school history.
That unit, which was the program's first to reach a Class AA state final, featured players such as Curt Welch, Haggan Spector, Nick Davison, Eric McDaniel and Kris Durham. Though he earned more notice as a receiver, Durham was the AA state defensive player of the year after picking off seven passes.
That defense had nine games allowing 10 or fewer points, and most of the points came after the varsity was pulled in blowout games.
Coach Hal Lamb says this year's defense could be even better.
"It could be, but we do have some question marks in a couple of places," said Lamb, noting that all-stars such as linemen Caden Parker and Gus Roberts must be replaced. "If the guys replacing them grow up fast then, yes, this defense could be very special."
Lamb's defenses always are built around linebackers, and not since 2005 has there been a more talented, physical group of them returning. Seniors Alex Kirby, Hunter Knight and Gabe Freeman totaled more than 400 tackles in 2010 despite not playing the second halves of many regular-season games.
Each runs in the 4.6 range for the 40.
"I'm biased, but I would put that group of linebackers up against anybody's anywhere," Lamb said. "They all love to hit, and they're blessed with what I like to call heart speed."
Middle linebacker Kirby isn't ready to proclaim this the best defense in program history.
"It could be the best, but it would be really hard to beat some of the other ones they've had," he said. "With Hunter and Gabe back at linebacker with me, with Reed [Allen] up front and some of the guys we have in the secondary, we should be good, but we have a ways to go to be the best."
Although the offense should be capable of scoring enough to win most games, it graduated last year's leading passer, rusher, receiver and most of the line. So the defense is crucial if the Yellow Jackets are to reach the state final for the fourth year in a row.
The seniors' motivation also is fueled by the thought of defeating the one school that's stood in the way of winning a title - Buford. The Wolves have dominated Class AA and have won three straight finals against Calhoun, including by 13-10 in 2009 and in overtime last year.
"I would love one more shot at Buford," Kirby said. "I would love to leave it out there on the field one more time. It's a big challenge. They've beaten us three years in a row, and we've gotten so close the last two years. It's made us work even harder and become even closer as a team. We all have that one goal."
Lamb marvels that the players all would rather face the Wolves again in the championship game than any other team.
"If you think about the situation they've gone through - no team in the country has lost to the same team in the championship game three years in a row - it would be a hard pill to swallow for anyone," Lamb said. "But these guys keep getting back there and they want it that way. That says something about their character."
Though Phil Reeve Stadium has hosted many great games during Calhoun's run of 10 consecutive region titles and four runs to state finals, none can compare to the atmosphere surrounding last season's Class AA semifinal against nationally ranked Carver High of Columbus.
Fans lined the fences, and coaches and players from the University of Georgia and Alabama were in attendance to watch Carver running back Isaiah Crowell, but it was the Calhoun defense that stole the show in a rousing 27-14 win.
"In pregame we didn't see all that many people, but then a couple of freshmen told us to look outside," linebacker Alex Kirby remembers. "It was crazy. People were lined up all the way down Yellow Jacket Drive, and when we came out for the game the people were so loud we couldn't hear. We were so fired up to prove to people that we could win without the big names. I loved that game; it's what we're all about."