DULUTH -- Duluth High School football fans have been counting the days until the 2011 season opener. And there is good reason for their excitement. Second-year Coach Corey Jarvis has 15 battle-tested starters returning from a team that missed the state playoffs by just one game last year.
After a long dry spell in which the Wildcats posted just four wins in four years, Jarvis led the Wildcats to a 4-6 record in his rookie season. Now, they're ready to make a big push for the state playoffs.
The excitement begins on offense where Duluth returns 10 starters, including Division 1 prospect Anfernee Stewart. This incredibly gifted 6-foot-1, 195-lb. senior has played only one season at quarterback and is quite likely the best quarterback in Gwinnett County.
While still learning the position, he passed for 1,498 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 459 yards and four scores. He bench presses 305 pounds, has a cannon for an arm and can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Stewart already has received scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Kentucky, Purdue, Michingan State and Louisville, just to name a few.
Jarvis said now that Stewart has a year of experience under his belt, he expects him to be 10 times better this year.
A veteran offensive line that returns starters Mark Ruskell, Tim Mettile, Julian Williams and Grant Cole should give Stewart and ball carriers like Henry Enyenihi and Michael Randle plenty of time and room to operate. Wide receivers like Myles Campbell and Joshua Stanford should help open up the passing game. Another wide receiver Jordan Nanrich had a very productive spring and should be ready to make 'Cats fans stand up and cheer.
Jarvis will have some holes to fill on defensive, but there will be five starters returning to form a solid nucleus. Back to help make life miserable for opposing offenses are linebackers Darnell Hart, Brandon Wilson and Joshua Johnson, backs Matthew Randall and Ahmad Muhammad, and lineman Richard House.
Overall, Jarvis said the team will be faster and stronger and will set its sights much higher than in the past. "We've got to learn how to finish games," he said Monday. "Last year, we played well for a half and sometimes into the third quarter, but our opponents kind of beat us down in the fourth quarter. We're going to finish better this year."
Jarvis and the Wildcats missed the playoffs by just one game.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs," Jarvis said. "You've got to have goals, and that is ours. we want to get into the state playoffs this year."
It all begins on Aug. 12 when Duluth travels to Central Gwinnett High in Lawrenceville for a 7:30 p.m. scrimmage. The regular season opener is Aug. 26 when the Wildcats host Lawrenceville's Archer High at 7:30 p.m. at Cecil Morris Stadium.