By Graham David
Head coach Bryan Lamar and the Tucker Tigers advanced to the Class AAAAAA semifinals during last year’s postseason but their bid for the program’s third state title ended with a 14-3 loss to Coffee. This year, the Tigers are looking to take that extra step into the finals, but they’ll be doing it with some unfamiliar faces after the large senior class of 2017 departs. But Lamar, now in his seventh season at Tucker, has several good reasons to believe that this upcoming season has big potential.
“We were disappointed, we want to win championships,” Lamar said. “It’s just part of life. Work as hard as you can and get in the best position possible. You’ve got to have some things go your way when you’re in a championship. You’ve got to have something go your way. The ball didn’t go our way that night. We lost to a really good football team, but it’s part of it. It’s time to turn the page and get back to that position. The more opportunities you have, the more chance for success.”
The Tigers find themselves with the tough task of filling some big shoes left by the senior class of 2017. Dylan Wonnum held down the offensive line alongside Terrell Paxton and created holes for a talented offense. Wonnum will play at South Carolina, and his absence will leave a void.
“Offensively we’ve got to find two tackles,” said Lamar. “If we get that we’ll be in great shape. Our center is back, he’s a three-year starter, Dominique Boyd, a really talented kid, and the other [positions] I have no idea. We have a ton of guys we’ll be looking at in spring, but Dominique is someone we’ll look at to have a good year.”
Boyd, a 6-foot-4 rising senior, suffered a break in his foot last year, forcing him out for half the season, but his return to the field has Lamar excited.
A heavy loss for the Tigers is Dekalb County all-time leading receiver Josh Vann. This wide receiver’s abilities on the field were unmatched, as he put up 1,022 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in his senior season. While his talents will be missed, his absence has opened the door for junior Isaiah Dunson. Dunson was second on the team last year with 215 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns. While his production didn’t come close to Vann’s last season, the two-year letterman has been with the team since his freshman year and has the experience needed to perform as a heavy-usage receiver.
When it came time to move the chains, the Tigers had no issue handing the ball over to their big-time running back Taurean Taylor.
“Taylor is the most productive running back I’ve ever seen,” said Lamar. “He was region offensive player of the year as a junior, and that caliber of running back will be greatly missed.”
His senior campaign featured unrivaled production, as he rushed for 1,236 yards and found the end zone 15 times. Expected to take control of the backfield will be the hard-running duo of rising seniors David Davis and Tyler Hughey. Davis was dominant beside Taylor in the backfield, rushing for 716 yards and scoring nine touchdowns on limited carries. Hughey saw fewer snaps, but Lamar seems to like what he sees from this small sample size.
“Hughey is a back that did a really good job for us towards the end of the season,” said Lamar. “He had a huge kickoff return against Allatoona to start the game. We’re expecting him to have a huge role at running back.”
Defensively, the Tigers find themselves in a similar situation as the offense. The team lost five linebackers who all went on to play college ball and altogether lost 13 starting-caliber players according to Lamar. Antonio Showers’ senior campaign produced almost unreal results. His 18 sacks last season led all of Dekalb County, outpacing runner-up Terrence Randle from McNair by five. There is no question that he will be missed on the field, but a solution may lie with one of the team’s youngest talents. Rising sophomore defensive end Dawson Rivers has Lamar feeling confident about the rebound potential for his defense.
“Dawson Rivers is going to be a freak of nature,” he said. “We’re expecting him to have a really good year.”
Back from missing the whole 2017 season due to an ACL tear, rising senior Bruce Mattox is back and ready to strengthen the team’s secondary.
Quarterback Travon Ford will be looking to go out with a bang in his senior campaign. His offseason progression has helped develop his talents further. Last season with Vann as his primary receiver, Ford threw for 1,616 yards and 19 touchdowns. His fourth-quarter performance in the 2017 playoffs against Allatoona in the second round helped secure the 20-12 win to advance to the semifinals. While the loss of Vann means Ford will have to spread the ball around, his passing and running ability will provide him with plenty of offensive opportunity.
The Tucker Tigers may be in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but Lamar said they have a strong foundation.
“Our sophomore class is really good,” he said. “Our senior class has some good players. We don’t have a lot of Power 5 guys, but they’re all solid players. This year, it’s more of a re-deal, but at the same time were trying to figure out a way to get into an opportunity to be competitive on a state level.
“The teams we’ve had before like this have won. Both teams that won titles lost in the semifinals the year before and then lost everyone. Then they come back and win the whole thing the next season. We’re going to figure out how to get better every day in order to get back and be one of those teams.”
TUCKER’S 2018 SCHEDULE
8/17 Buford (Georgia State)
8/24 at Grayson
8/31 at Forest Park
9/14 Mundy’s Mill
9/21 at Drew
10/19 M. L. King
10/25 at Mt. Zion-Jonesboro
11/2 at Stephenson