Albany on the Rise
THERE’S AN EASY WAY TO TELL WHO’S FROM
Albany and who’s not. Current Albany High football
standout Juwon Young confirmed his native roots
during a photo shoot in early spring by answering
the question the proper way.
“I’m from ‘All-Benny,’” the 6-2, 230-pound line-
backer said. “Some people say it like, ‘All-ba-ny,’
but no, it’s ‘All-Benny.’”
People from the area have called their home
‘All-Benny’ for as long as anybody can remember.
While that won’t change anytime soon, the high
school sports landscape has shifted as of late.
The area was a hotbed for basketball talent in the
1990s and into the 2000s, with Westover winning five
state titles and Dougherty claiming two. There wasn’t,
however, as much success on the football field.
Young says growing up he looked up to his uncle
because of his stories of playing football. But he
never saw him play, and the area’s four high school
programs weren’t exactly impressive when Young
was growing up.
“I really didn’t have somebody to look up to as
a football player in Albany,” Young, who verbally
committed to Miami in June, said.
Joined by the likes of Westover defensive linemen Trenton Thompson and quarterback Stephen
Collier in nearby Lee County, Young leads a talented group of football players that the youth of the
area can see having success on the gridiron.
In recent years, Westover coach Octavia Jones has
noticed an increase in community interest for football.
“I think it’s starting to kind of balance out a
little bit,” Jones said, comparing football and bas-
ketball. “With the recent success, I think kids are
starting to get more involved with football. I think
the coaches here have done a great job of promot-
ing the sport. I think the community is starting to
embrace it a little bit more.”
Last season Jones led the Patriots to an unprec-
edented second place finish in the region. With the
talented Thompson, a 6-3, 285-pound soft-spoken
kid, still just a junior, there’s reason to believe the
best is yet to come.
“We made history,” Thompson said of last sea-
son. “They said Westover hadn’t ever been any-
where, so we put them on the map.”
Westover’s revamp pushed Young this offsea-
son. While both the Patriots and Monroe High went
on the playoffs, Young’s Indians finished a disap-
“It motivates me a lot. I plan on leading us to the
playoffs, playing wildcat quarterback and line-
backer,” Young said.
While most of the attention is deservedly focused
on South Georgia football is cast toward the likes of
Valdosta, Lowndes and Colquitt, don’t sleep on Al-
bany in the near future. “All-Benny” is on the rise.
“I definitely feel like the talent level in this area
is coming up,” Jones said. “The past couple years
we’ve had some kids from here gain attention and go
on to Division I schools. Right now, with Trenton and
Juwon, and there’s some other guys too, we’ve got
some players that are drawing big time interest.”
– Fletcher Page
Colquitt coach Rush Probst
but Octavia Jones would like to change that.
Jones is the head coach at Westover, one of
four public high schools within the city limits. In
his three years on the job, he’s pushed a moribund program from three wins to four to eight,
and he’s seen a marked uptick in the number
of fans in the stands and players on the field.
Building tradition in a city more renown for its
basketball prowess hasn’t been easy.
“They support football and get excited for
football, but I don’t think nearly in the numbers
the surrounding counties do,” Jones said.
Albany, like Valdosta, represents a rare bit of
city life in the otherwise rural southern half of the
state. But while the two cities are about the same
size, Albany has twice the number of schools and
just a fraction of the historic football success.
Americus to the north, Worth County to the
east and Cairo to the south have all enjoyed
their football heydays, but Albany has largely
languished. The city faces similar financial
challenges to its smaller neighbors, and its
facilities hardly compare with more traditional
powerhouses. From an organizational standpoint, the feeder system for talent is a mess.
The myriad elementary programs pool students
into various high school programs, and there’s
little in the way of a shared philosophy.
“The rivalries were more hard-core when I
played,” said Jones, who starred at neighbor-
ing Monroe. “We had a tremendous hate for
Dougherty that was instilled in us by our coach-
es. These kids can go to parties or a dance
together. We don’t want it to be that serious.”
Jones said the coaches from each of Albany’s
schools have worked closely to build a foundation
for success within the city, but it’s an uphill battle.
“For a long time, people on the outside
felt like they could kind of check off a victory
when they had to play an Albany school,” Jones
said. “That’s starting to change a little bit, and
that’s a testament to the hard work each of the
coaches have done here with their kids.”
It has come in small steps rather than soar-
ing triumphs, but Jones sees the progress.
Tradition builds slowly, but once the fires are
stoked, they burn forever.