The Knights will need all hands on deck when it opens its 2019-20 football season Aug. 23 — mainly because of the limited number of deckhands at Frederica Academy.
The biggest impediment in Frederica’s quest for back-to-back state titles could be its undermanned roster, even for a GISA program. There are just 30 players on the Knights’ roster, and how head coach Brandon Derrick and his staff manage those players will likely determine the season’s success.
It isn’t a new problem for Frederica. The Knights expertly navigated the boundary between rested and ready a year ago, and it resulted in them hitting their stride down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs.
“It’s a fine line at times,” Derrick said this summer. “Where we’re at, you’ve got 30 kids, so you’ve got to manage a lot of things. You’ve got to manage them, which aren’t going to be pushed at times by the guys beside them or they guys that give them reps going against, but also, knowing how to deal with our injuries, and deal with everything, and not overwork them completely to death so we’ve got legs going into the playoffs.”
Frederica Academy began last season 0-2 following an overtime loss against Valwood that saw eight players standing on the sidelines in the second half, including standouts Jaylin Simpson and Ja’Shawn Sheffield.
But exercising caution early on paid dividends as the Knights won 10 of their final 11 games, the only loss a one-point defeat at the hands of John Milledge Academy, who Frederica thumped 48-0 in the title game a month later.
The beginning of the season could look similar when Frederica opens its season on the road against GHSA Class A-Public opponent Charlton County before traveling to face a reloaded Valwood a week later. The following week, the Knights return to St. Simons for its home opener against a Tiftarea team that went 11-1 a year ago.
An 0-3 start is well within the realm of possibilities for Frederica’s season, but Derrick would happily accept the record if it means his team is prepare for region play and beyond.
“I’ve often said that I can be 0-5 this year as long as I win those last five, or win four out of those last five that are region,” Derrick said. “I can be undefeated in region, get myself in position, and have our kids clicking going right into it.
“Then we win the last three in the playoffs or whatever and end up being 7-6 and winning the state championship. Nobody remembers those six losses.”
Although the job security that comes with a state championship is sure to earn Derrick some leeway in sacrificing regular season wins in losses for the best shot at another title, he’s consistently held the same mindset at every stop of his career.
At some point, Derrick learned to believe in his method, his staff, and his team, and let the rest of the opinions fall by the wayside.
“You just tune out the outside noise,” Derrick said. “Because you’re going to have people saying, ‘Coach, that’s crazy playing Charlton.’ Well it’s crazy playing Wesleyan, it’s crazy going over to Alabama and playing Parklane and traveling.
“There’s a method to the madness. You just hope it all works out and the kids learn how to travel, and compete, and they know that big games are big games and you have to travel to them sometimes.”
At Derrick’s first head coaching job at his alma matter McMinn Central in Tennessee, he dared to challenge state powerhouse Alcoa in a scrimmage that saw his team lose big. However, they returned again the next season and played them neck-to-neck.
Derrick calls it his “Ric Flair philosophy.”
“If you don’t play the best, how can you be the best?” he asked. “That’s what I’ve always said. I want to play that top competition to prepare ourselves.”
Plenty of Frederica Academy’s opponents will be looking to do just that and have surely circled their contest against the defending champions on the calendar.
The loss of six seniors that received offers to play college football, hasn’t fazed the Knights. It doesn’t matter if the other team has 40 players on their roster or 80, as long as the Dirty 30 can avoid injuries, make some plays, and get a few bounces, they’re confident in their ability to repeat.
“Honestly, I think it’s the mindset of our kids,” Derrick said. “No ones told them they’re not state champs, and I’m not going to.
“For them, they still have that little bit of swagger, that chip on their shoulder. They got tired of hearing it, in a sense, that we’re not going to be able to do this, or we’re not going to be able to do that. They’re like, ‘Oh really? We’re going to see.’”