The philosophy of M.L. King Lions head coach Michael Carson when he took the job prior to the 2010 season was to always be better than last year.
“The goal remains the same this year too,” said Carson.
That is easier said than done this year, and Carson is the first to admit it. The M.L. King Lions were a perfect 12-0 last year before falling to Lassiter in the quarterfinals of the 2011 AAAAA state playoffs.
Last year’s Lions were arguably the most exciting team in the state with quarterback Jonquel Dawson and playmaking wide receiver Blake Tibbs lighting up the competition each week. Tibbs will be playing for the Georgia Bulldogs this upcoming season and Dawson will be at Miles College after graduating with nearly every DeKalb County passing record in his name.
The certainty and confidence that came with having a leader like Dawson will be difficult to locate at first for the Lions.
“There is no replacing a Dawson,” explained Carson.
Carson is confident that just like in his previous seasons, success always starts out as a work in progress.
“These guys just have to work and work and that will establish them a leadership role on this team,” said Carson. “Someone will emerge.”
The Lions are the defending 2-AAAAA region champions entering the season. In 2012, the GHSA reclassifications moved them into Region 6-AAAAA. Rival Stephenson is the lone region opponent that made the move with the Lions, and the two teams will have nine new region opponents this upcoming season.
The M.L. King-Stephenson rivalry has been a showcase each year, and since 2006, the teams have never finished below first or second place in their shared region. No matchup between the two was more significant or exciting than last year’s 50-49 Lions’ victory over Stephenson. With the region title on the line in the last game of the season, Stephenson scored what looked like a game-winning touchdown with just 16 seconds to go. Tibbs fielded the ensuing kickoff, and 82 yards later, he had the Lions holding a region title and a perfect regular-season record. The two teams poured everything they had into this game, according to Carson.
“Both teams limped into the playoffs after that game,” said the Lions coach.
The toll a game such as that one from 2011 can take on a team could be problematic for Carson this season. This year, the Lions will have to play Stephenson and Tucker in consecutive weeks. The Tucker Tigers could be the team to steal some of the spotlight from the M.L. King-Stephenson matchup in 2012. The Tigers enter AAAAA for the first time, fresh off a 15-0 record and Class AAAA state championship last season.
Carson, however, does not believe anything will be taken away from the M.L. King-Stephenson game.
“I wish the Stephenson game was the last game of the season or right in the middle,” said Carson. “Playing Stephenson then Tucker with Miller Grove as the last game of our regular season will be a huge challenge for our football team.”
The Lions plan on running the ball a lot more than they have in past seasons according to Carson. Senior running back Renard Whyte will take a share of the carries, with a talented incoming freshman also seeing some playing time.
“Miles Donaldson is only an incoming freshmen, but we already feel like he can play varsity and take some carries for us in 2012,” said Carson.
Romello Shumake and Rashad Oglesby have been getting the most action at receiver this offseason. Who will throw Shumake and Oglesby the ball is still up in the air as the battle for the quarterback position continues. Possibly winning the starting job in 2012 is a newcomer who just moved into the M.L. King district earlier this week, though Carson could not reveal his name until all of the necessary paperwork has been filed. The new 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect transferred in from Tri-Cities and will get a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job.
On the defensive side, Jacarthy Mack will have to make plays for the Lions in 2012. The Louisville commit played defensive end last season, but will be moved to outside linebacker this season.
“This will allow him to use more of his abilities,” said Carson.
Rebounding from an exciting and successful 2011 season will be a challenge. Key positions and leadership roles still need to be filled. It will be intriguing to see if the newcomer can be the guy to fill the much needed leadership role at quarterback in Dawson’s absence.
Carson is happy with how the offseason has gone thus far.
“We have been working hard non-stop since January,” said Carson. “We have a great group of 32 seniors, and we have a lot of talent to work with.”
The season kicks off Sept. 1 against Stockbridge as the Lions look to do more than match the success in 2011.