Jul. 22—TIFTON — Only seven months to go before the Tift County Blue Devils and head coach Bobby Earls start formal practice and begin the defense of their Region 1-7A soccer championship.
The Blue Devils, who finished 15-2, 6-0 in the region (with five shutouts), having been working this summer, but not on a practice field. Many of Earls' players have summer jobs, though some will be active for United Futbol Academy this fall and others will suit up for American football. For those not with UFA, Earls plans to get them together later in the fall.
There will be no time to waste. Earls said the season was moved up two weeks from last year.
"As soon as school starts back in January, we're right back at it."
After coronavirus cut short the 2020 season, Earls sent his players workout suggestions to keep them going. This year, he does not feel he needs to do that. His players know what they need to defend their crown. Plus, they have the advantage of Tift strength coach Michael Doscher, who Earls said is a tremendous asset to the school system.
Many big names graduated off the 2021 squad: Paco Ventura, Elian Calderon, Cris Banda, Perry Mendoza, Andrew Laska, Diego Olguin and Josue Lopez. Even without such a massive chunk of Tift players available for 2022, Earls is confident in the younger members of the team.
Mike Taylor recorded wins in all three starts at keeper.
"He's not going to have Paco's experience, but he's athletic," said Earls. "I think the others will be ready to step in, take their turn and be in charge."
Banda supplied 15 goals for the Devils last year. Right behind him were younger players, Manny Marin and Alex Cardoso. Eight players netting goals in 2021 are expected to be back on the roster and, of the six players credited with a game-winning goal, four are coming back.
Marin's 11 assists were credited as a school record and Earls is sure he'll graduate with the all-time assists record for the blue and white.
One member of the 2021 region champions, Ventura, will be continuing his career in college. Ventura will be play at Andrew College this fall.
"I'm excited for Paco," said Earls, adding that Ventura will immediately be competing for playing time. "He's got the skills for sure to compete right away."
Earls is also hopeful that Ventura accelerates a pipeline from Tift to Andrew that started with C.J. Copeland signing in 2018.
Though he has not been working with his players, Earls has been working on his schedule. He had a first draft done before the GHSA altered the season's dates. He's made some adjustments, but is waiting to hear from some schools on new dates. The Metro Atlanta trip remains on the slate, with a Saturday game against one of the Henry County schools.