By Jeffery Armstrong
The Morrow Mustangs football team is heading in a new direction for the 2004 season.
After a couple of years of playing teams that liked to pound the ball (Northside-Warner Robins, Westside-Macon, Warner Robins), the Mustangs now will have to get their running legs in gear in Region 2-AAAAA.
This region now includes four DeKalb County teams n Douglass, Lithonia, Stephenson and Redan n and one Fulton County team (Tri-Cities) that are known for their speed and quickness. Newton County is another team added to the region.
Gone from their region are the Houston County teams and five teams in the Southern Crescent (Mt. Zion, Jonesboro, Henry County, Stockbridge and Eagle's Landing).
Morrow has only one familiar foe it will face in the new region and that's Clayton County rival Riverdale, a team that walloped the Mustangs 42-7 last year.
In fact, Riverdale has beaten Morrow five straight times, dating back to 1998. The last time the Mustangs beat Riverdale was a 22-21 win back in 1994.
"It would be nice for us to beat Riverdale, especially since we haven't beaten them in years and they are our first region opponent we face (Aug. 27)," said Morrow head coach Dorwyn Lyles. "But to tell the truth, we haven't beaten any county teams in a while. Our first game of the year (Forest Park, Aug. 21) is the one game I'm focusing on right now."
Lyles said he was feeling pretty decent on Monday, the first day of practice in full pads.
"It wasn't a bad day of practice in pads at all. We're putting the guys through as many repetitions as possible, so they know what to do," Lyles said. "They're good guys. They are pretty receptive and positive and they are stepping up to the challenge of getting ready for the season."
Morrow is incorporating a new offensive and defensive system this year, which isn't a bad idea since the Mustangs went 2-8 last year. Lyles isn't sure whether the new systems will yield a huge turnaround in wins, since the Mustangs will be a younger team and they'll be playing new region foes. He does feel good about how his players are responding in practice, however.
"This year's team is better prepared for football than last year's team. They worked 100 percent harder than last year and next year, we'll work them 100 percent harder than this year," Lyles said. "I am always optimistic. We'll have to fight and scrap this year, but if we make good choices and limit mistakes and turnovers, we can compete."
Lyles' optimism for this season stems from the earlier summer workouts. Last year, the Mustangs only had 10-12 players come out for summer workouts. This summer, Lyles had 25-30 players consistently show up for training.
"The guys put a lot more effort in the weight room this year and that pleased me," he said.
Some key players returning for Morrow this year include senior Lajuan Raines at quarterback, senior running back Marhna Ferrell, sophomore fullback Claude Williams ("I think he can get 1,200 rushing yards this year," Lyles said), senior cornerback Paul Douville, senior linebacker Jeffrey Wilson and senior free safety Louis Jackson.