Athens drive came tantalizingly close to an exceptional year in 2012.
The Jaguars were 5-7, but five of the losses were by six points or less. Several times the difference in winning or losing came down to one play:
• Athens failed to score late against Lumberton after driving to the 8 in a 20-14 loss.
• Athens had an apparent touchdown nullified by a penalty in a 27-24 loss to Apex.
• The Jaguars allowed Fuquay-Varina to convert on fourth down during a 31-27 loss.
• They threw a late interception in a 35-30 loss to Middle Creek.
• Athens gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown in a 9-7 loss to Cary.
We kept finding ways to lose, said coach Chris Martin. The kids played hard, but we just couldnt make the one big play that we needed.
One key to the 2013 season, Martin said, is for the team to develop deep-down confidence that it is going to find a way to win. He doesnt want players to be haunted by last years many close calls.
Its encouraging so far, he said. Our first two practices this season were the best practices weve had since Ive been coach.
The Jaguars have a veteran team with six offensive starters and seven defensive starters returning. The team isnt big, with the notable exception of 6-foot-4, 335-pound Curtis Hill, but Athens was able to move the ball effectively in most games last year.
Dominique Lynch ran for 1,560 yards and Martin said junior Jamie Barnes can develop into a big play maker as a receiver and defensive back. Senior John Politis takes over at quarterback.
Junior Tradd Deaver started at linebacker last year and is expected to be a leader.
Juniors Tyree Manuel and Dimerist Hedgepeth are expected to help make the defensive front one of the teams strengths.
Chris Martin (same name, different coach) has joined the staff after being head coach at Broughton and has made contributions to the offensive package.
That addition has allowed head coach Martin to work more with the defense.
The biggest thing for us is to continue battling hard to overcome adversity, he said. We need great leadership and for someone to make a few big plays. What we are looking for is a few players to get to the point where were making the big plays that determine who wins.
He expects to the Southwest Wake, formerly the Tri-Nine 4A, to be as balanced as it has been in recent years. Middle Creek might be the favorite, but Green Hope is expecting great things and Holly Springs looks like a contender.
I expect there are going to be close games every week, Martin said. We need to find a way to win some.