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Game #1 August 10 Brantley 4 Brunswick 5
Game #2 Sept 08 Brunswick 2 Glynn 1
Game #3 Sept 18 Glynn 2 5 Ware 3 6
Game #4 Sept 21 Brunswick1 Glynn 10
Game #5 Sept 22 Glynn 4 Brunswick 0
Game #6 Sept 27 Bradwell @ Brunswick
Game #6 Sept 30 Richmond Hill @ Glynn
By Kevin Price
Photography by Jennifer Johnson
Swan Song in the Swamp
People flock to the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross in droves to see the many creatures that make their home in the swamp.
Alligators are the main attraction, of course.
Those don’t necessarily impress the locals, though, since gators are a common site for them. It takes something special - like one
of gigantic size - to get their attention.
But, when it comes to the local high school football team, the star of the show has certainly attracted the attention of the home folks in recent year because he does have special qualities.
And now that senior quarterback Thomas Castellanos is set for his final foray with the Ware County Gators, the 2021 season will be the final chance for the team’s fans to fill Memorial Stadium to see his talents on display.
A four-year starter for the Gators, Castellonos is not your typical prep quarterback. He’s not even the typical teenager playing high school football who likes to get as far away from the coaches as he can on a team bus trip. Castellanos likes to be right there with them in the front seats, talking football, which says a lot about his makeup and drive to be the best.
“He sits right behind the coaches,” said Ware head coach Jason Strickland. “We might not even be out of the parking lot yet after a game, and he’s already asking about the next opponent.
“We’ve had to tell him to enjoy this game, enjoy this win. Don’t take these things for granted. Wait a little bit before you worry about the next one.”
That’s just one small piece of advice the Ware coaches have given their star player since joining the program when Castellanos was wrapping up his freshman year.
The first order of business for the new coaching staff was to make sure he continued to wear the Gators’ green and gold colors. When former head coach Franklin Stephens left for McEachern in Cobb County, Castellanos admits to at least
thinking about transferring to another school.
“It was like a whole big family was leaving,” Castellanos said. “Coach Stephens and the other coaches, that’s all I knew.” Once he met the new coaches including offensive coordinator Jerry Breeden, who also coaches quarterbacks, Castellanos
decided to stay put. He says now he couldn’t leave his
teammates. Castellanos, whose older brother Ladedric was a rising senior, was coming off a freshman season in which he accounted for more than 2,000 total yards and 25 total touchdowns while helping the Gators to eight wins and an opening-round playoff
victory as the starting quarterback.
In Strickland’s first season, Castellanos ran and passed for more than 1,900 yards and 25 scores as the Gators finished 8-4 overall, winning Region 2-AAAAA and reaching the second round of the state playoffs before losing to eventual state champion Buford in Waycross.
Last fall, Castellanos excelled in a new spread offense tailored around him to take advantage of his tremendous athleticism along with his passing arm and running abilities.
He led the Gators to a 10-2 record and a berth in the state quarterfinals while racking up impressive statistics that included 2,881 passing yards and 23 touchdowns and 939 rushing yards and another 24 scores. Ware averaged almost 36 points per contest.
“It was a lot of fun, putting up a lot of points and showing an offense like that,” he said.
The Gators fell 34-31 to Cartersville at home in the
quarterfinals, ending their hopes of a state championship as the Purple Hurricanes instead went on to play Warner Robins in the title game.
Ware’s only loss in the regular season was actually to the state champion Demons which clipped the Gators 22-19 in late October in Warner Robins, allowing them to claim the Region 1-AAAAA crown.
Those six points, which were the combined difference in the two games the Gators lost and kept them from possibly playing for last year’s state title, have been in the minds of everyone associated with the Ware program since that sudden ending to the 2020 season.
“We felt like we had the team to win the whole thing, but just didn’t get the job done,” Castellanos said.
As bad as he felt after the loss to Cartersville, Castellanos didn’t brush football aside and forget about it for several weeks. He immediately reviewed the film of the quarterfinal game to
critique his own performance.
Castellanos passed for 259 yards, ran for another 115 and accounted for four touchdowns that night, but threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble.
The next week, he attended the semifinal between rival Coffee and Cartersville and saw the Hurricanes pull out a 24-17 victory
at home to advance to the state final.
“I think he knows he didn’t have his best game against
Cartersville, but we were still that close to playing Warner Robins again and seeing what could happen,” Strickland said.
“I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. I think he knows we’re good enough to get back there again and knows we have to do everything we can to take advantage of our potential.”
That probably explains why Castellanos has stepped up his personal preparations for the upcoming season. Strickland said Castellanos has “killed himself” in the weight room and appears
to be stronger and faster than he was last year.
He also has become more vocal in summer workouts, taking command of the team in drill work on the practice field.
“He has always been the rah-rah cheerleader type,” Strickland noted. “Now, he’s more like a coach.”
Castellanos already has a year of work in as a player-caller for the Gators. The coaches gave him the green light to change a play prior to taking the snap from the start last season.
Going into this season, Castellanos said he has an even better grasp of the offense and what plays to run after dissecting the defense.
“The game’s gotten way slower for me. I feel like I’ve gotten way better,” he said.
Castellanos enters his senior season already knowing his next destination. He verbally committed to Central Florida back in March after head coach Guz Malzahn was hired by the Knights following his dismissal at Auburn at the end of last season.
Other schools including Georgia Tech and Florida State were heavily recruiting Castellanos, but Central Florida was the only one assuring the 5-foot-11, 190-pound three-star recruit that he would play quarterback.
“I had bigger offers, some as an athlete, some as a QB,”
Castellanos said. “But, they seemed to be the ones with the most confidence in me and the place I’ll have the best chance to get on the field early and play quarterback.”
Castellanos has already put together a great career with the Gators, leading them to 26 wins in three seasons and three playoff appearances. He has thrown for 5,097 career yards and 41 touchdowns while rushing for 2,713 yards and 56 scores
while garnering numerous individual accolades including 912 Sports Player of the Year last season.
And, he has given Gator Nation plenty of eye-popping moments made possible by what he can do with his God-given talents and a football in his hands.
Castellanos wants 2021 to be a big season for the Gators. A state championship would certainly make it one for the ages in the Okefenokee and be the ideal ending for his Swan Song.
“I’m excited about it. We have a chip on our shoulder from last year. I feel like we can pull it off. It could be real special this year,” he said.
By Kevin Price
Photography by Charles Smith
Tommy Bliss has earned the spotlight as the featured Scholar- Athlete for the 912 Sports Magazine preseason high school football issue because of his outstanding work in the academic arena.
The Richmond Hill senior is also a captain for the Wildcats going into the 2021 campaign, and leaders like Bliss are a big reason
the Wildcats have blossomed the last several years under the guidance of head coach Matt Lezotte.
“Tommy is an exemplary student,” Lezotte said. “His picture is next to the definition of student-athlete in the Webster’s dictionary.
“He’s as good a young man as they make, and you see how that good decision-making correlates on the field and in the classroom.”
Bliss, who carries a 4.25 grade-point average, moved to
Richmond Hill with his family when he was in fifth-grade and has been bred to play football for the Wildcats. He played for the middle school team prior to joining the high school program as a freshman.
He played for the junior varsity team as a ninth-grader and dressed with the varsity before the end of the season, played special teams on the varsity as a sophomore when the Wildcats won Region 2-AAAAAA and advanced to the state semifinals.
Last fall, Bliss was a starter for Richmond Hill in the defensive backfield, but his season came to end just two games into the schedule when he broke a leg while running down to cover a
kickoff as part of the Wildcats’ kick coverage team.
He watched the rest of the 2020 season from the sidelines as Richmond Hill earned a share of the region title and won its opening playoff game before falling in the second round at Westlake which went on to reach the semifinals.
Bliss is back in the mix for his senior season and is eager to make his presence felt for the Wildcats this fall. He is projected to start at safety on defense and slot receiver on offense. “He has led this offseason both through his actions and words,”
LeZotte said. “Our players look to Tommy to speak up when needed, and he always creates energy in our workouts and practices. There isn’t a player more respected in our program than Tommy.
“Tommy has benefited from seeing what it looks like to
compete at a championship level. He uses this every day to help grow our younger guys, and I truly believe that will be his legacy. He is a selfless player who’s going to contribute on both sides of the ball and will have a big season. Dude is tough.” And of course, he is smart, too. Bliss has taken honors classes
every semester in high school.
His favorite school subject is science. This past year, he took physics. As senior, he will take an oceanography course. “I like dissections, always thought that was the coolest thing,” he said. “I like working hands-on, getting my hands dirty. You’re looking for something, once you find it, it’s like the best feeling in the world.
“I’ve dissected a baby pig before. I’m going to get the chance to dissect squid and other things in the oceanography class, so I’m excited about that.”
It’s possible he could become more familiar with the ocean, the creatures that live in the deep blue sea and maybe even submarines in the future as well.
He visited the United States Naval Academy in early June and planned to begin the process to apply for the service academy as soon as possible. The Midshipmen have him on their radar as a football prospect, too.
“Everything was beyond expectations,” he said about the visit. “Annapolis is one of the nicest places there is. It’s a lot like downtown Savannah, real coastal. They have shops along the river. So, it feels like home.
“The campus is amazing. They have awesome facilities, all super new. It’s Division I for sure.”
Bliss is getting some interest as a football recruit from other schools including Mercer University in Macon and Shorter University in Rome.
LeZotte said other schools might start recruiting the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Bliss seriously this fall.
“He’s done some very good things at camp, and after he puts together some film his senior season, I can see it really jumping off,” the coach noted.
One thing Bliss knows is that he will be prepared for the academic work that awaits wherever he goes to college. He said attending Richmond Hill has prepared him well to tackle any serious academic work after high school. “We’re taught you better take care of business in class and roll out on the field ready to go,” he said. “Our teachers help us do
that. They’re some of the best in the 912, I think. I’ve never had a bad teacher at Richmond Hill.”
Bliss has been a teacher of sorts for the Wildcats throughout the offseason as well.
The team was hit hard by graduation in the starting ranks after last season, and he was one of only a handful of players with varsity experience going into offseason training. Of course, Bliss
lost most of his junior year due to the broken leg which limited his own experience.
You wouldn’t know it, though, according to Lezotte who has been impressed by Bliss in a number of ways over the offseason.
“One of the things that sets him apart from most players is his attention to detail,” Lezotte said. “It’s probably the main reason he’s so successful in the classroom, too. He not only understands how to do things, but also understands why we
ask them to execute plays in certain ways. He also has an amazing ability to communicate that to his teammates and help them understand.”
The coach noted that Bliss is constantly engaged in what is taking place in practice and oftentimes does serve as another coach.
“He understands the importance of mental reps, and he’s never afraid to put in extra work outside of normal practice time,” LeZotte added. “He’s the first guy we put new players in touch with because he is so dialed into what we do, how we do it and what’s expected as a program.”
Ironically, Bliss himself mentioned that mentoring young players and preparing them for success in the future may be the biggest way he can contribute to the team this season.
“We’re young, but we’re really growing,” Bliss said this
summer. “The team has answered the bell.
“I was blessed to have guys around me who knew what they were doing and helped me come into my own. Now, I feel like I’m trying to do the same thing for the young guys. They’re like sponges and learn everything you tell them. They’re going to improve the whole time.”
The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher talks with 912 Sports‘ Kevin Price
Posted 2/22/2021 at 12:45 pm
By Kevin Price
Update: Camden County has officially hired former head football coach Jeff Herron as the new coach of the Wildcats football program.
Camden County schools released a news bulletin mid-morning Monday announcing Herron as the football program’s next head coach. The news of Herron’s pending hire was first reported by 912 Sports Connection early Monday morning.
Multiple sources close to the situation told 912 Sports over the weekend that Herron had accepted the Wildcats’ post on Friday. We talked with several of them about Herron’s return for our earlier story which can be read in its entirety below. Herron said he would discuss Camden football with 912 after the new coach had been named.
Camden principal Steve Loden said the school is honored to have Herron return.
“Coach Herron has an enduring legacy of building football programs that produce not only state champions but also student-athletes who are defined by their outstanding character and sportsmanship. We are excited for this next chapter in Camden County football and look forward to seeing our community turn out to support the Wildcats under the lights of Chris Gilman Stadium this fall.”
Posted 2/22/2021 at 08:00 am
By Kevin Price
The Camden County Wildcats plan to make an official announcement regarding a new head football coach this week which will end weeks of speculation regarding this important issue in a community where high school football is a big deal. And based on what 912 Sports Connection has learned in recent weeks, this upcoming announcement will most likely create a fervor
unlike any other inside the county lines and also places well beyond because of who the next coach will be for the Wildcats which compete in Class AAAAAAA in the Georgia High School Association.
Multiple sources have confirmed to 912 Sports that former Camden head coach Jeff Herron has accepted an offer to return as head coach of the Wildcats which have been looking for a new coach since Bob
Sphire resigned as the team’s head coach on Feb. 4.
“It’s going to be like a revival,” said Allen Rassi, former president of the Camden Wildcat Quarterback Club who remains an active supporter of the football program. “I’m excited for Camden County. I
believe our administration and our school system have handled this in a first-class manner.”
Herron coached the Wildcats for 13 seasons from 2000-2012 and won three state championships with the program during that time.
Herron declined comment with 912 Sports on Sunday night but said he would comment on the Camden coaching search when a new coach is named.
Sources close to the search have told 912 Sports that an official announcement from Camden County Schools regarding the hiring of
Herron will likely be made this week and could be forthcoming as early as today.
School officials would not confirm the hiring of Herron over the weekend, but Camden athletic director and former head football coach Welton Coffey did respond in a text message to 912 Sports that an announcement will be made soon. 912 Sports plans to be in Kingsland Monday to report on Herron’s
return as head coach. His hiring is still pending approval by the Camden County Board of Education.
We will provide updates on this story as it develops.
Please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for any breaking news as it happens. We will continue to provide the latest information on 912Sports.Net as well.
We have been following the Camden coaching search since Sphire submitted his resignation earlier this month. 912 Sports was aware that Sphire could be leaving the program following Camden’s 2020 season even before the Wildcats lost in overtime at Parkview in the opening round of the state playoffs in late November. Sphire is returning to Kentucky, where he grew up and also previously coached, to become head coach at Highland High School in Fort Thomas.
He won a state championship with Lexington (Ky.) Catholic in 2005 prior to coming to Georgia and becoming head coach at North Gwinnett which he established as a state power before coming to Camden prior to the 2017 season. Sphire was 23-20 in his four years at Camden, taking the Wildcats to the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs the last two years. This past season, Camden finished with a 5-6 record.
Herron is currently an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, where he once served as a graduate assistant coach at the outset of his career.
The Golden Eagles opened their spring season Sunday at home against Austin Peay after not playing this fall due to concerns about Covid-19. Tennessee Tech won 27-21.
912 Sports learned Friday night that Herron had agreed to return to Camden for a second stint as the Wildcats coach. He also requested Camden not make his acceptance public any earlier than Monday so
that he could wait until after Tennessee Tech’s game on Sunday to inform his position players of his decision in hopes of not creating a distraction for the team prior to the game. It is believed that Herron plans to finish out his commitment with the Eagles and remain with the team for the remainder of the spring
season. He could still get his offseason program installed with the Wildcats while doing so by having chosen assistants handling the day- to-day operations within the program until he can be in Camden again
on a daily basis. His son Major Herron is a middle-school coach in Camden while former assistants under Herron are still employed by Camden including offensive line coach Greg Slattery who also has been a head
Herron is the most successful coach in Camden football history as he led the Wildcats to three state championships while establishing the program as a state power in Georgia’s largest classification and making it one of the elite prep football programs in the nation. The Wildcats were 154-18 in 13 seasons under Herron and made the playoffs every season during his previous tenure. The Wildcats also played in several nationally televised games during his time with the program.
Herron’s overall record as a head coach is 312-54. He has never had a losing season in 29 years as a head coach.
“He cultivates a culture of belief,” Rassi said. “Look at where he’s been - Oconee County, Camden County, Prince Avenue Christian, Grayson and T.L. Hanna, and now coming back to Camden. Everybody has to buy in on it, and you want to be a part of it. No matter what your role is, even if you’re just sitting in the stands ringing that cowbell, you want to be a part of it.”
Herron is currently tied for the best overall winning percentage all-time among head coaches in Georgia with the legendary Larry Campbell who was the longtime coach at Lincoln County and has the most wins
all-time by any coach in Georgia with 477 career victories during a head-coaching career with the Red Devils that spanned four decades.
Both Herron and Campbell own an .847 winning percentage as a head coach in the state. Herron has 287 victories as a head coach in Georgia which puts him in the top-15 for most wins all-time in state history.
Herron has won five state titles and is the only coach in the history of Georgia high school football to win state championships as a head coach with three different schools. He also won state championships
at Oconee County and Grayson in addition to the three he won at Camden. During his first stint with the Wildcats, Herron led them to 12 consecutive region championships. Camden once won 28 straight games and also won a Georgia-record 58 consecutive games in the regular season. The USA Today ranked the Wildcats in its Super 25 poll in six of Herron’s final eight seasons with the team. Camden was named Georgia’s team of the decade for 2000-2010 for its success on the field.
“The biggest thing I can say about Coach Herron coming back is that he knows what to expect from us and we know what to expect from him,” said Artie Jones Jr., who is on the board of directors for the Camden quarterback club. “We know him, and he knows us, and he
can hit the ground running.
“By far, he’s the most successful coach in Camden County football history. I know I like his coaching style. He brings out the best in all of his athletes. He doesn’t hold them back. He doesn’t care whether the
score is 0-0 or 50-0, he wants you to play your hardest and do your best.”
Camden won its first state championship in 2003, beating the Valdosta Wildcats 21-7 in the final game at storied Cleveland Field before it was
renovated and then named Bazemore-Hyder Stadium at Cleveland Field to carry the names of Valdosta’s most-known head coaches in their illustrious history.
Camden won back-to-back state crowns under Herron in 2008 and 2009. The Wildcats defeated Peachtree Ridge in the 2008 title game and prowled past Northside-Warner Robins in the 2009 state final.
Herron became Camden’s head coach the first time following a state-championship season at Oconee County in 1999 which was his third
season with the Warriors who went 33-6 in his time with the program. Oconee, which fell to Pierce County in this year’s Class AAA state final, had only won eight games in the previous four seasons
combined prior to Herron’s arrival.
Herron left Camden following the 2012 season and coached at Prince Avenue Christian in Bogart for three seasons, going to the quarterfinals and semifinals in those three years while compiling a 31-
6 record in his three years with the school.
He coached at Grayson in 2016 and led the Rams to a 14-1 record and a state championship in his only season with the Gwinnett power which won this year’s state championship in Class AAAAAAA under
Adam Carter. Carter hails from Herron’s coaching tree along with Franklin Stephens who has won several state titles as a head coach. Stephens coached several seasons at Ware County and is now head
coach at McEachern in Cobb County.
Herron left Georgia following his only season at Grayson to coach at T.L. Hanna in Anderson, S.C. He led Hanna to records of 11-1 and 14-1 in the 2017 and 2018 seasons with his 2018 team playing for a state championship. His two Hanna teams won region championships
and the 2018 team also won the Upstate championship before losing in the state final.
Jones said there might be critics out there who don’t think Herron can rekindle the magic again at Camden, but he believes the Wildcats are
making a smart choice in turning to Herron again as they look to again contend for state championships.
“In this world, you’re not gonna get 100 percent agreement on anything,” Jones said. “We could bring in the coach who just won the Super Bowl, and there would be critics. “Football is big business, and our program has been the heart of Camden County. It brought us together as a community when he was
here. We had 4,500 or 5,000 people following our team when we went on the road, and the other team liked to see us coming because we generated a lot of revenue for them.
“Camden has been losing a lot lately. When you only have 400 or 500 people following the team, that is pretty bad. I want to see our stands
full again, and the only way we are gonna be full again is to start winning. We want a winner and we can win. We have the kids here to do it. We are gonna have to build it up again, get that spirit going again.”
Of course, Herron is the one who created that buzz around the Wildcats for all those years.
He actually retired from coaching after his second season at Hanna and sat out the 2019 season before joining the staff at Tennessee
Tech in early 2020 prior to the postponement of the fall season due to concerns related to the Covid19 pandemic.
Carter, who led Grayson to that aforementioned state crown this past season, believes Herron will be successful again in Camden.
“He will make an immediate impact on those guys,” Carter said. “It won’t take long. He’ll be in the dogfight in Region 1 this year, they’ll be in the mix. He’s the best there is at what he does.” Carter said an older Herron is as good as the Herron that arrived at
Camden back at the turn of the century.
“He’s got a lot left in the tank. He’s not going into it washed up I promise you.” Carter said. “They’ll be ready. You can take that to the bank.”
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