Time to kick off

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, August 9, 2006

By BY BRUCE HIXON – sports editor
With the start of practice now underway for the T.R. Miller Tigers football team, here are 10 things to keep an eye on for the 2006 season.
1. Game of the season: The Tigers travel to Thomasville Oct. 6 in a game that could decide the Class 4A Region 1 championship. Both teams finished 11-3 last season and both reached the state semifinals in their respective classes last season. T.R. Miller got to the 3A Final Four where it lost to eventual state champ Pike County, while Thomasville was derailed by eventual 4A state champ UMS-Wright. T.R. Miller and Thomasville had several heavyweight battles during their previous years in 4A. This one should not be any different. Thomasville is ranked third in the state preseason poll, while T.R. Miller is ranked fourth.
2. Trap game: Jackson visits Brewton Municipal Stadium for Homecoming Oct. 13. The Tigers were caught napping on Homecoming last year when they were upset by Slocomb. The Aggies were a quality team last year when they went 6-5 and qualified for the first round of the playoffs.
3. Hold your breath if projected starting quarterback Baxley Raines goes down. Neither of T.R. Miller's backup quarterbacks, sophomores John Mathieu and Matt Lane, has never taken a varsity snap.
4. Will the Tigers have enough depth in the backfield? T.R. Miller has had experience, depth and quality among its running backs in recent years. That is not necessarily the case this season, at least in terms of experience. The Tigers return senior Justin Gomez, who rushed for 413 yards and scored a team high 11 touchdowns last season, but most of his supporting cast is gone. Senior Travis Holland, who ran for 104 yards last season, is the only other back who hit triple digits in yardage last season. Senior Jamaal Middleton had a promising spring. Junior Keyara Matthews could also factor into the equation?
5. Who will be the new go-to wide receiver? This should be senior Brice Martin. The Tigers graduated their top receiver from a year ago, Mikel Riggs, but Martin also had a solid year with 19 catches for 359 yards.
6. Who will emerge up front on the defensive line? That is probably the biggest question about T.R. Miller's defensive unit headed into practice. Seniors Marlon Alvarado, Paul Wayne Hayes and Rashad Taylor had the upper hand for spots at the end of spring, but other areas remained unsettled.
7. What is the biggest position switch? That could involve senior Andrew Chavers. Chavers played last season up front on the offensive line, but the Tigers switched him to tight end this spring.
8. Will the Tigers have a special teams threat that can go the distance on returns? T.R. Miller was spoiled in that area the last three years with Antonio Gomez, who was a threat to go the all the way any time he touched the ball. This is a key question that remains unanswered.
9. Will T.R. Miller be any bigger up front on the offensive line? The Tigers have struggled to find bodies of 200 pounds or bigger for the last couple of years. T.R. Miller will still be fairly small up front with Marlon Alvarado and Paul Wayne Hayes leading the way at 215 pounds each. The other leading candidates will probably be under 200 pounds. Senior Ed Taylor is the next biggest at 197 pounds.
10. When will coach Jamie Riggs get his 200th win at T.R. Miller? Riggs, who picked up his 200th career win last season, enters this season four wins shy of 200 at T.R. Miller. The earliest Riggs could pick up 200 with the Tigers is Sept. 22 when T.R. Miller hosts Monroe County.