By Anthony Rhoads
With two true freshmen competing for the starting quarterback job, Fort Valley State head coach John Morgan was not looking forward to the 2004 football season.
"It was definitely frustrating not having a starting quarterback," Morgan said. "We were frustrated at the prospect of having two true freshmen fight for the starting position."
But things worked out for the Wildcats last season as former Stockbridge standout Willie Copeland won the starting job just days before the season opener against Morehouse.
Copeland went on to complete more than 50 percent of his passes for 1,291 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led Fort Valley to a 7-4 record and was named the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.
"I think he did well," Morgan said at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview earlier this week in Macon. "It's tough to be in that situation as a freshman but he did well. It was good to see him getting better as the year went along."
As good as Copeland was on the football field last year, Morgan said Copeland has done well off the field as well.
"That's what we want at Fort Valley," Morgan said. "We don't just want good football players, we want good kids and good students."
Copeland isn't the only former high school standout for Clayton and Henry counties to play at Fort Valley.
Some former Southern Crescent players who are now at Fort Valley include sophomore defensive lineman Robert Jackson (Mt. Zion), senior halfback Rowan Jeffers (Mt. Zion), sophomore wide receiver Chris Mingo (Riverdale), sophomore free safety Rashad Smith (Eagle's Landing) and freshman offensive lineman Jasper Williams (Eagle's Landing).
"All of them will definitely help us out this year," Morgan said.
Jeffers, who scored 24 touchdowns and gained 1,420 yards in his senior season at Mt. Zion in 1999, saw limited action last season. Jeffers gained 68 yards and scored one touchdown on 18 carries.
"We expect Rowan to do some good things this year," Morgan said.
Smith played in three games last year, getting five tackles.
"We're looking for Rashad Smith to have a break-out year," Morgan said. "With his work ethic and the way he's working out this summer, he's ready for a break-out year."
At West Georgia, the Braves will have only one former Southern Crescent player on their roster in 2005. Former Stockbridge standout Joe Clark will be returning for his senior season and is expected to play nose tackle. He recently was in a car wreck but suffered minor injuries. Head coach Mike Ledford expects Clark to be at 100 percent by the time practices roll around.
Former North Clayton standout Corey Braddy won't be eligible to play in 2005 as the NCAA denied West Georgia's request to have him medically redshirted.
"We sure wish he was back," Ledford said. "He's someone you can't replace. We wish we had him back."