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Laney Hitting Its Stride While Learning to Overcome Adversity

The winner of two of its last three games, no area team has been hit harder by Covid-19 complications than Laney (2-3, 2-1), who has played all five of its games without head coach Rashad Dunn.

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After committing a turnover and falling behind Butler 8-6 in the fourth quarter on the road Friday, Laney calmly marched 65 yards down the field and scored the game’s go-ahead touchdown on a 20 yard completion from freshman Javaris Harris to sophomore Marcellus Brigham.
 
 
 
 
The pivotal drive, which resulted in a 12-8 region victory for the Wildcats, encapsulated what acting head coach Chris Thomas meant in a post game interview conducted over Facebook Messenger Saturday when he said “this season has had its share of adversity… but we are making the best of the opportunity and seizing the moment.”
 
The winner of two of its last three games, no area team has been hit harder by Covid-19 complications than Laney (2-3, 2-1), who because of the virus has played all five of its games without head coach Rashad Dunn while also having to make due without starting quarterback Keshaun Sanders for the first two games of the season.
 
 

The trials have been many:

– First, Laney’s opener against arch rival Josey was postponed (and moved to this Friday).
 
– Next Thomas found out two days before its first game against Grovetown (a 6-2 loss on the road) that the sophomore Sanders would be quarantined (because of contact tracing) for two weeks, thrusting the freshman Harris into starting QB duty.
 
– Then the team had to cancel practices the Monday and Tuesday after the first game so the entire school could be sanitized, making preparation for its game at Lincoln County that week (a 13-7 loss) that much more difficult.
 
Understandably, the offense has encountered problems with penalties and turnovers because of the chaos. Mix in the fact that Troy commit Jordan Stringer, Laney’s star running back and linebacker, was unable to play for the better part of two games because of a lower body injury, and you get a recipe for disaster… one would think.
 
 
Troy commit Jordan Stringer (14), a four-year Laney starter

 

Responding to adversity:

But Thomas couldn’t be more proud of his players for the way they have responded, particularly Friday night when a group of men made of less would have folded:
 

“Having to keep these kids’ minds sane has been a job within itself, especially with such a young team with limited (36 players) numbers,” Thomas explained before concluding with noticeable pride that “…last night we grew up as a team and persevered through all the turnovers and penalties to get a pivotal win in region play.”

Player Profiles:

 
Despite the obvious difficulties, Laney has been able to rely on a strong defense that is anchored by Stringer and fellow seniors CJ Madison (nose guard) and Corey Alexander (linebacker). All three players have started for at least three seasons. Led by those veterans, the unit has held opponents to 10 points per game, and on Friday Butler was able to manage only 65 yards of total offense.
 
 
CJ Madison (53) and Corey Alexander (4)
 
 

Jordan Stringer

 
Jordan Stringer (2) – August, 2019
 
 
Thomas gushed about Stringer, a four-year starter who received Augusta Chronicle All-Area honors as far back as his freshman season, and who has been a leader on both the football and the basketball team since the day he stepped onto Laney’s campus:
 

“Jordan is one of the most humble kids I have ever been around. But this year one of our coaches talked to him about having to be a different type of leader this year, and having to be more vocal because he is a kid that really leads by example,” Thomas said. “Here is a kid that has over a 3.6 GPA and can graduate in December if he likes. He actually was attending classes Augusta Tech last year. He is part of the early college program that Laney used to have. He often gets down on himself when he feels like he does something he knows better than to do, but he’s a kid that also will come back and make up for it.”

Marcellus Brigham

 
 
 
Thomas also heaped heavy praise on Brigham. First, let me say that I agree with Chris’s assessments (below) and I must also say that at 6-3 and 190, the sophomore wide receiver’s appearance and play are striking to the eye in a way that is truly unique. Brigham has four touchdown receptions this season, and he plays all over the field on the other side of the ball. Thomas described Marcellus’s versatility:
 
 
“He is really like a unicorn. The first 2 games we lined him up at linebacker where he had a few tackles for loss. The last game we asked him to go down and play defensive end to rush the passer and contain him, which he did very well. This week we asked him to play safety to give our secondary a boost. He has played all three at a very high level. Not sure why power 5 schools are not reaching out which I’m sure is all about to change after this season.”
 
Marcellus Brigham makes a tackle against Aquinas in August, 2019
If you are skeptical about Thomas’s next statement, I encourage you to go watch Laney play and judge for yourself:
 

“I truly believe that kid (Brigham) is the number 1 athlete in the class of ‘23,” Thomas declared. “And I’m not saying that because he is my player. You ask every opponent we have played so far. I mean offensively he is seeing double teams as a sophomore and still managing to make the play when presented with the chance.”

 
 
 
And in case you want it clarified, like I did, Thomas means Marcellus is the best sophomore athlete in the nation!
 
 
 
Marcellus Brigham makes a diving catch against Aquinas.
 

Javaris Harris

 
This season Brigham has been on the receiving end of all four of Laney’s touchdown passes, two each from Sanders, the sophomore, and Harris, the freshman. Sanders has impressed Thomas with his accuracy, and Harris with his playmaking ability, his composure (especially for a freshman), and his ability to “take some pretty tough licks.”
 
Harris leads the team in rushing touchdowns (4) to go with his two passing touchdowns. And the freshman showed uncommon composure Friday when during his first series behind center in the game he led the Wildcats on their fourth quarter go-ahead touchdown drive.
 

“He’s a very unique individual. The kid is a threat wherever he is playing at on the field,” Thomas explained. “This is a kid the area better get used to hearing about. He just has that “IT” factor. Very dynamic with the ball in his hands.”

 
Javaris Harris (5) – Laney
 

The road ahead:

 
Laney’s only loss during region play came at the hands of league leader Putnam County (6-0, 3-0). This Friday the Wildcats will hit the road again to take on their long time rival Josey (1-3, 0-2), who will be celebrating homecoming while also trying to build on the progress it has seen recently after winning its first game in 29 tries on its opening night.
 
From there the road for the Wildcats will get even more difficult as the remaining opponents (Westside, Oconee County and Jefferson County) all currently sport region records at or above .500. Thomas made a point of saying that one of the team’s goal is to make the state playoffs, something no player on the current roster has experienced. If the Wildcats keep making progress, and maybe catch a break or two, they could very well deliver on that goal.

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[Livestream] Grovetown vs Evans in Region Battle for Playoff Position

Evans hosts Grovetown and looks to avenge their buzzer beater loss to the Warriors on January 22nd.

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“Sophomore Malik Ferguson picked up a loose ball in the middle of the paint with one second remaining, and right before the fourth quarter buzzer sounded, he released a shot that found its mark to give Grovetown 61-60 win over Evans Friday, a result that threw the top spot in the class 6A, region 5 standings into a three way tie between Grovetown, Evans and Heritage to mark the beginning of the stretch run for the league’s regular season championship. Ferguson’s shot came at the end of a full court dash by Grovetown after head coach Darren Douglas was able to draw up a play during a timeout that was meant to result in a bucket in only six seconds. The play was designed for senior Zach Bell, who eventually fumbled the ball after spinning between defenders at the end of a drive that began near half court after he gathered the ball from freshman Derrion Reid.”

That was Chad Cook’s rundown of the instant classic that these two teams played two weeks ago. That win by Grovetown sets up a must-win scenario for Evans as they look to maintain their footing in the race for a region championship.

Be sure to get your ? ready early because if tonight’s game is as exciting as the last one, you just might forget those jokers altogether!

Streams will be posted here. Tip-off times are as follows:
Girls – 6:30 PM
Boys – 8:00 PM

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Culture

Former Basketball Stars Lead the Way in Business, Community Service, and Artistic Pursuits

Harold Doby, Reggie Middleton and Roman Hill have turned a brand into a business, a lifestyle and a mental framework for impacting their community.

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Reggie Middleton (left) and Harold Doby (right)

On January 4th, the day after Harold Doby’s “Books and Life Lessons” (B.A.L.L.) charitable organization conducted a coat drive to help keep warm some of the most vulnerable people in the downtown area, I spoke with Doby and Reggie Middleton, two lifelong friends and former college and high school basketball stars, at Middleton’s “Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel” shop at 120 James Brown Boulevard. Our interview (below) covered the coat drive, Reggie’s entrepreneurial journey, and the meaning behind the “Came From Nxthing” brand, which originated from the music of Roman Hill, our third interviewee. Hill’s friendship with Doby and Middleton helped sprout a “movement” that has provided a framework for the three former athletes to impact the world through acts of community service, business, art, entrepreneurship and charity.

The interview provided a great chance for me to get reacquainted with two men I’ve watched grow from being boys who excelled in a game, to leaders of their families and their community. I bet others who watched them star at Glenn Hills and Winthrop (Middleton), and at Laney and Augusta University (Doby), will also gain satisfaction from hearing about their continued personal development. For example, Reggie explained how he took advantage of his basketball talent to earn a job playing professional basketball in London. Then he used his experience there to hatch a business idea to bring high-quality fashion for an affordable price to people in his hometown.

Reggie Middleton scored 1,186 points for Winthrop.

Harold’s concern for people who are most in need, whether it be the men and women he personally distributed the coats to earlier this month, or the students in his school he recalled giving clothes and shoes to when he was in grade school, is the original reason for my getting back into contact with the two men I once coached and taught when they were middle schoolers.

Harold Doby distributing coats in downtown Augusta on January 4.

I’m grateful we reconnected because they are a shining example of what can be greatest about sports and the community that builds around such a life journey: strong, caring relationships developed through shared experiences, encounters with adversity, and moments of triumph, as well as failures and hardships. Reggie’s story about how he has been able to take the difficult circumstances of the pandemic and nonetheless thrive in business with his “back against the wall” by drawing on his experiences as a basketball player growing up reinforces something I’ve always believed, that youth sports is great practice for real life. 

Harold Doby and Reggie Middleton, as well as Roman Hill, whom Doby first met as his rapping Augusta University basketball teammate, are winning the game of real life every bit as much as they did when they mastered the game of basketball as younger men.

Look out for news of the next Drive from B.A.L.L. Visit the Came From Nxthing Designer Apparel Facebook page to see Reggie’s merchandise, shop with him online or find store information:

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