Max Wiltz, who served as the North Clayton High defensive coordinator the last three seasons, was promoted to head coach in May after Rodney Hackney left for a similar position at Washington High in Atlanta.
Two seasons ago as a sophomore, Dennis Johnson inherited the starting quarterback position during spring practice.
He wasn’t slated to start, but when returning starter Milton Artiss transferred to Westlake, the North Clayton coaching staff had nowhere to turn.
The little-used Johnson was the only option for the coaching staff. He played mostly on the JV as a freshman after having trouble grasping the Eagles’ Wing-T offense.
But during that sophomore season, Johnson hardly let his inexperience show during the Eagles’ run to the Class AAAA quarterfinals.
During that season, Johnson mostly gave the ball to all-state running back Clarence Jackson, who led the state in rushing with over 3,000 yards.
As Johnson begins his senior season, he will be the focus of the Eagles’ offensive attack.
“I’ve got to lead by example,” Johnson said. “The rest of the offense will feed off my energy. I’ve got to show up when it’s time to play.”
After passing for 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns, Johnson has provided evidence that he now has full grasp of the offense.
His teammates are believers.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,” said junior running back La’Darrius Mathis, the team’s leading returning starter. “We are looking for everybody to do their job. If he does his job, and the rest of us do our job, we will be in good shape.”
The Eagles return seven offensive starters from last season, including their entire offensive line.
However, offensive coordinator Demarco Mitchell, who helped develop Johnson into a starter, is no longer with the team. He joined former head coach Rodney Hackney at Atlanta’s Washington High during the offseason.
Hackney, who was 29-7 in three seasons at North Clayton, accepted the Washington job in May. A couple weeks later, former defensive coordinator Max Wiltz was given the head coach job.
Until he finds a permanent replacement, Wiltz will run both the offense and defense. He said he will put a few new wrinkles in the offense to highlight Johnson’s ability.
“He looks good,” Wiltz said of Johnson. “He looks like a quarterback that has been in a system for four years. It will be a tremendous help for me, because he is like a coach on the field.”
Johnson is hoping for a big year to attract more attention from college coaches. He has received interest from Memphis, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State and a few lower-division schools.
“Right now, I feel like I’m at the peak of my game,” Johnson said. “I’m really comfortable in this offense. I’ve worked on making my drops, reading the defense and throwing. I know if I show up, they (colleges) will show up. I know what it is going to take.”
Defensively, the Eagles must replace all-state linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who is competing for a starting job at Georgia this fall as a freshman. Wiltz has eight returning starters on the defensive unit.
“We have a group that has been together for a year,” Wiltz said. “We have some speed and some talent on that side of the ball. We have some other guys that have played a lot of snaps.”