Several of the games were close and could have gone either way, but the Yellow Jackets’ youth played a role in the team’s struggles.
An added year of experience was what coach Billy Shackelford counted on from his young players as Sprayberry took part in spring practice.
“Last year, we had 15 sophomores that started at least eight games, so we were very young,” Shackelford said. “We only had 13 seniors on the roster. That combination of a lot of young kids and a small senior class was really our Achilles’ heel.
“We had a lot of close games and lost a couple of them in the end. We didn’t finish. We were very competitive, but fell short of our goals. Fortunately, we get a lot of those young guys back this year. They’re a little older, a little wiser, a little more mature, and they have that experience under their belts. All of that showed during spring practice.”
Shackelford was excited about what he’s seen during the offseason. Roughly 70 players were involved in spring practice, and “they’re taking care of their responsibilities in the weight room as well as on the field.”
“It was a great spring practice,” Shackelford added. “We had fun. We were able to get most of the offense in after a few days. Guys were a lot quicker picking it up than last year, probably because of the guys coming back. The offense was a little bit further ahead than the defense, but we had good competition on both sides.
“The kids had great attitudes and didn’t buck the work. They were coachable, and I’m really excited about where we are.”
All of the Yellow Jackets’ skill players on offense return.
Quarterback Shane Young is back for his second season, as are running backs Rakeem Myricks and Shane King.
The wide receiver position is also stacked with the likes of Charles Cook, Jon Palmer, Jontae Williams and Dre Miller.
“We’re strong at wide receiver with about three to four guys that can go,” Shackelford said. “They have size, speed and competitiveness, and they make plays with their hands. We’re excited about Shane. He’s more mature and he’s stronger and faster. Rakeem and Shane both did a great job, too.”
Sprayberry’s offensive line is still a work in progress with Darius Burton and Bailey Sharp as the lone returning starters. Dalton Kesler, Danny Riera and Troy Hatch were also working along the unit.
“If we have a question mark or focus on offense, it’s developing our offensive line,” Shackelford said.
Sprayberry will also have to overcome some issues on defense as cornerback Eric Wells, linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Ricky Dover return along with King at linebacker.
“We’re still trying to find guys to fill some holes on defense,” Shackelford said. “King is a 100-tackles kind of guy on defense, so he’ll likely play both ways.”
Other players who could likely see a lot of time on defense are Palmer, Hayden Langston, Colin Ramey, Tyson Routliffe and Jabari Zuniga and Patrick Kenney.