Drew freshman Myrick Walker, left, listens to some instructions from Titans coach Jarrett Laws during a recent practice. Walker is in the running for a starting linebacker position this season.
In the ideal world of high school football, incoming freshmen would learn the game on the lower level teams.
These freshmen could make a significant difference for their teams
• Deon Andrews-Riverdale-Younger brother of former Raiders standout Troy Wyche
• Jordan Bolden-Drew-Injuries will allow him to play early at running back spot
• Lennox Copeland-Mt. Zion-Talented receiver could be go-to player in offense
• Anthony Crider-Mt. Zion-Has talent, and leadership ability to make impact
• Torlando Harrison-Riverdale-Has physical tools to cover varsity receivers
• Myrick Walker-Drew-Titans coaching staff loves his high football IQ, athleticism
But that will not be the case for many freshmen this season as they are being thrust into starting and impact roles on their varsity teams this season.
Some are there out of necessity, while others have shown the maturity and athletic ability to make an immediate impact.
“It is a great privilege to be able to play varsity football as a freshman,” said Drew freshman Myrick Walker, who is earning a starting linebacker spot on the Titans defense.
“Ideally, the most established program will allow the freshmen room to grow in their first year,” Drew coach Jarrett Laws said. “Now a days, kids come in more physical and prepared to play. The thing is, if they are aggressive and have a feel for the speed of the game, the rest falls on coaching them up.”
Riverdale coach Terry Herrod agreed.
“If you can help it, you don’t want to play them (freshmen),” he said. “You want to put them in a backup position or on the special teams, but if they show they have the speed, size and maturity, you will work them in. You want to ease them in because there is a huge difference between middle school football and varsity football.”
At Mount Zion, coach Ervin Starr will have four to five freshmen in his starting lineup this season. Starr, in his second year at the school, said all five of the players he is counting on have the physical tools to play on the varsity level. After a 1-9 season in his first year, Starr said he will “put the best product on the field,” including several freshmen, to help turn the fortunes around in the program.
“I’m very comfortable with playing these freshmen,” Starr said. “They have the speed for the game.”
Starr coached three of his potential starting freshmen when he was the coach at nearby Rex Mill Middle School. Which means the coach is familiar with the players and their abilities.
Last season, Anthony Crider, Josh Lowery and Hassam Little helped lead Rex Mill to the Clayton County Middle School championship. Now, they are being counted on to help Mount Zion get back into a state-playoff caliber team.
Crider is trying to earn a spot as a starting linebacker, while Lowery is playing receiver and Little is being tried at the cornerback spot.
Lennox Copeland and Quinton Newton both played at M.D. Roberts Middle last season, which lost in the middle school playoff semifinals. Copeland is getting a shot at the safety/wide receiver spot, while Newton is playing some at cornerback.
“These guys have come in here hungry, and eager to play,” Starr said.
Another freshman at Drew who will see some significant playing time is Jordan Bolden at the running back spot. Because of injuries to two key returning running backs, Bolden will be given significant time this season. Lester Knauls, a rising senior running back, sustained a broken ankle injury during spring practice and might be lost for the season. He was the leading returning rusher from last season.
Another running back, Tracy Gaston sustained a season-ending knee injury during the offseason, which left the Titans with only one healthy returning rusher — Marquis Terry — coming into the season.
“I think Jordan can help us out,” Laws said. “We are going to give him his shot.”
Aside from athletic ability, Starr has seen that his incoming freshmen will play a role in leadership. He has been particularly high on Crider.
“Anthony is unquestionably a leader of our team,” Starr said. “His communication has been great.”
Starr said the freshmen have brought a swag to the team that has been missing since only winning five games in the last three seasons.
“These freshmen combined have only lost six games in middle school,” Starr said. “The only thing they know is winning. You can never have enough winners in your program. If we are going to turn this around, these freshmen will play a big role.”
While Riverdale is a senior-laden team, Herrod will be relying a few freshmen to big roles. Torlando Harrison is being looked at the cornerback spot. He played there all summer during the passing league games.
Herrod is confident that Harrison will hold his own on the varsity level since he goes against some of the top receivers in the state each day in practice. Herrod also pointed out that the Raiders defensive back coach Jason Bostic played at Georgia Tech and in the NFL.
“That is big for him,” Herrod said. “This summer, he took his lumps, as all freshmen do, but he also made some big plays. What’s going to help him is that our defensive line is our strong point, and they will put pressure on the ball. His best friend this season is going to be our defensive pressure.”