CHATSWORTH — The 2019 season was as close to the peak of the football mountain the North Murray High School Mountaineers have yet reached in their 11 seasons playing the sport.
An 11-2 record was the best in the school’s short history, and a quarterfinal appearance in the Class 3A state playoffs is the farthest the young program has reached in the playoffs.
A season later, the Mountaineers look to a retooled roster to keep the program at the lofty standard it set.
“The most important part is your culture, and we haven’t lost that,” said Mountaineer head coach Preston Poag. “The mindset of this team is that it’s their time. They have to take the baton and run with it.”
That season was accomplished thanks in part to a senior class of 19, including Division I college football talent such as Ladd McConkey, now a Georgia Bulldog, and Chaisen Buckner, now at Navy.
McConkey, especially, will be a challenge to replicate or replace. The do-it-all power lined up at wide receiver, quarterback, defensive back, returner and even punter for North Murray last season, piling up 924 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground and passing for 1,771 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“People lose seniors all the time, and no one person is going to replace someone like Ladd McConkey, it’s got to be a group effort,” Poag said.
The cupboard isn’t bare after that senior departure. Poag said the 2020 version of the Mountaineers has a lot of speed, maybe even more than last season.
“This is probably the fastest team I’ve had,” Poag said. “I’ve got guys that can go to the house at any time.”
That starts with D’Ante Tidwell, a senior who has some Division I interest.
“We’re younger than we were last year, and we have to grow up real fast this year,” Tidwell said. “Ladd was great, but we have a lot of playmakers on offense coming back.”
Even with McConkey amassing huge numbers last season, the versatile Tidwell went for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and 265 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver.
Noah Lunsford also provides speed in the backfield, as well as Cade Petty, who transferred from cross-town rival Murray County in the offseason.
Sophomore Seth Griffin is the one who’ll be tabbed to take over at quarterback from McConkey.
Up front, however, is where the Mountaineers are lacking experience. North Murray graduated six offensive and defensive linemen that were named to All-Region 6-3A teams.
“We’re set up pretty good at the skill positions, we’ve just got to develop more depth up front,” Poag said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
Colors: Black and gold
Classification: Region 6-3A
Head coach: Preston Poag
Last year’s record: 11-2
QB/DB Ladd McConkey
FB/LB Dylan Flood
WR/DB Landon Burrell
WR/S Hayden Hullett
TE/LB Chaisen Buckner
OL/DL Aaron McCurdy
QB Seth Griffin, sophomore
RB/LB Noah Lunsford, senior
RB/LB Cade Petty, senior
RB/DB D’Ante Tidwell, senior
OL/DL Carter Reynolds, senior
Circled on the schedule
Northwest Whitfield, Sept. 18
• North Murray’s season opener is not until Sept. 18, when they’ll play Northwest Whitfield
Rockmart, Oct. 16
• Two years removed from a state championship game appearance in Class 2A, Rockmart is now in Region 6-3A with the Mountaineers.
Murray County, Nov. 6
• The Mountaineers host their cross-town rival on Nov. 6. With a deep, improving Murray County team facing a younger North Murray squad, this could be a game to watch.