The Class AAAAAA Mays Raiders have been consistently good the past two seasons. In fact, they are almost mirror images of each other. In 2016, the team lost its opener, a non-region game against AAAAA Stockbridge, and won 11 straight before losing in the state quarterfinals to Tucker. In 2017, Mays again dropped its opener to Stockbridge before winning 11 straight, losing to eventual champion Lee County in the quarters.
Now in his third year as head coach, Niketa Battle has guided his team to a perfect 16-0 Region 5-AAAAAA record in that time.
“The foundation for competing in this region has been laid,” Battle said. “Whether we’re a young team or an experienced team, we’re going to be pretty decent in the region.”
The Raiders will have a mix of inexperience and veteran leadership this season. The program sent 20 players on to the next level, losing roughly 18 starters and just shy of 40 seniors. But Battle says the spring season brought the team along further than he thought it would be. He notes that even if most of the young talent was not starting last season, those players earned valuable experience in the two-deep and playing in blowout wins.
“We’ll be young and green in some areas, but in other areas we’ll be pretty doggone good,” Battle said. The team concluded spring practice with a game against reigning AA champs Hapeville Charter in a defensive battle.
The Raiders offense will start with senior Jahquez Evans, who will get the majority of the snaps at quarterback. Evans is being recruited at many different positions, including QB, wide receiver, cornerback and safety. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound multi-threat athlete makes quick decisions in the Raiders offense, which relies on zone read and run-pass option primarily, with mostly short passes. Battle says he should be even more familiar with the offense this season after starting part of the season in 2017. Evans has a handful of SEC and ACC offers currently.
“He’s a 4.4 guy, so as soon as he decides to pull the ball, he makes things happen with his legs,” Battle said.
Tyree Nelson will get the bulk of the carries at running back, and the junior has been on the varsity team since he was a freshman. The 5-10, 205-pound back “looks like Nick Chubb and runs like Sony Michel,” his coach says, invoking the two former star UGA running backs who were drafted this spring. Nelson broke out with big games in playoff wins against Sequoyah and Centennial.
Jaylen Dunson is a jack-of-all-trades for the Raiders. On offense, he will get touches at running back, inside receiver and even quarterback. Dunson will also handle much of the return duties on special teams along with placekicking and punting. Battle says he will likely use younger kickers to make sure Dunson is fresh and not overworked.
Mays replaces its top four receivers from last season, but its fifth option in 2017, Terrence Morton, is a talented 6-foot junior. Morton—a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track—played in nearly every game last season and will be the top option this year with Dunson and a host of others behind him.
“We have guys that can stretch the field, guys that can run tunnel screens, guys that can catch quick slants and get moving,” Battle said. “It’s going to be a good blend of receivers this year.”
On the offensive line, a trio of seniors will be the anchors. Kelvin Dennis started every game at center last season but will move to left tackle this year to use his rangy 6-4 frame. Winston Muckle steps in at center after playing mostly guard last year, and Aquavious Asberry will man the right tackle spot. Kamden Dobbs is a 6-2, 270-pound junior who will likely start at left guard with Caleb Wimberly at right guard.
The defense only returns one starter, senior Montileco Edwards, who was the team’s best cover man last year at cornerback and will be relied upon as a leader this fall. Alongside him in the backfield, junior Tavarious Carswell will man the free safety spot. He’s rangy and fast and will play next to Omari Drake at the other safety position. Junior corner Durante Jones started for Douglass last season and will be in line to start as well.
The linebackers aren’t big, but they are agile and make good decisions, Battle says. There should be good depth on the unit starting with MIKE Da’shawn Dixon, who runs about 5-9, 190. He’s the team’s best tackler. Latravious Murray will start at SAM, and Brandon Potts will man the WILL spot. Two other players will rotate in the defense’s hybrid SS/OLB spot.
On the line, Battle plans to use a deep rotation to keep his players fresh for the playoffs. Dentavius Roberson is a converted linebacker at 6-2, 220 who will be a vocal leader at defensive end. The senior will look to provide a pass rush. Junior Timothy Thomas will get the starting nod at nose guard and will have a rotation of younger players behind him.
Mays already has experience playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, appearing last year in the first annual APS Battle, so the moment won’t be too big for the Raiders.
MAYS’ 2018 SCHEDULE
8/18 at Norcross (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8/25 vs. Central (Phenix City, AL)
9/07 vs. Hughes
9/14 at New Manchester
9/28 at Tri-Cities
10/05 at Douglas County
10/12 vs. Creekside
10/19 at South Paulding
10/26 vs. Alexander
11/02 at Northgate