Photo by Derrick Mahone
RIverdale junior quarterback Greg Taylor prepares to participate in a drill during Monday’s spring practice.
Coach: Al Hughes
Returning Starters: Six on offense and defense.
Key returning players: LB DeMarquis Gates, DE Randy Anyanwu, DB Montrell Custis, DB Trayveon Custis, C Randy Robinson, LB Josh Jackson.
Key players lost: QB Alejandro Bennifield, RB Travis Custis, WR JuMichael Ramos, TE Arshad Jackson, DE Zane Fields, NT Nathaniel Norwood, OL Malcolm Johnson, OL Montell Robinson-Beasley.
Who impressed: Hughes mentioned familiar names like Ayanwu, Montrell Custis and Taurean Bell. That trio of players had “fine springs” according to Hughes. Custis proved himself at the safety spot last season. But the rising junior turned heads while spending time at receiver this spring. Tailbacks Rico Tilley and Kevin Morris took meaningful strides toward helping to fill the 2,000-plus yard void that Georgia Tech signee Travis Custis left behind. Hughes is also high on junior-to-be center Randy Robinson.
Noteable newcomers: Jeremiah Kirkland. The rising senior transferred in to Lovejoy during the offseason after starring for Class A’s Landmark Christian. Kirkland rushed for 2,052 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012 for the War Eagles who lost in the first round of the playoffs to eventual Class A runner up Prince Avenue Christian. Hughes said Kirkland “has SEC speed.” He’ll have a chance to take his game to the next level against AAAAAA competition.
Spring recap: Not only did the Wildcats lose a bevy of senior star power after last year, they also said goodbye to defensive coordinator Kevin Jones. Jones, the architect of one of the stingiest defenses in the state regardless of class, was tapped to fill the head coaching position at Dutchtown. Edgar Carson has stepped in to take his place at Lovejoy, and Hughes said the defense hasn’t missed a beat. Perhaps of more concern will be how Lovejoy settles its quarterback position. Mays High transfer Quentarius Neely, 2012 junior varsity starter Khalil Rogers and Bennifield’s backup Cameron Hill will vie for signal calling duties. Also, look for Lovejoy to tinker with some different offensive formations to utilize its talent at running back.
Coach Hughes says: “I know in 2010 we had a real good football team that went 10-0. We hosted the first playoff game and that bunch from South Georgia, Glynn Academy,” upset us. Most of those [Lovejoy] kids went on to graduate. Everyone thought we wouldn’t be worth a flip. We came back next year, win Region 4-AAAA, go undefeated, roll in the playoffs only to lose to Tucker in the title game. Well, same type of thing this year. We’ve lost some of those guys from those last two title runs. But these players expect to win. They fight hard to win. They believe we’re going to do it, and having that mindset is real important.”
2012 finish: 2-8
Coach: Nic Vasilchek
Returning Starters: Five on offense, four on defense
Key returning players: WB/CB Trae Bonner, WB/S Steve Osondu, LT Darian Drake.
Key players lost: DE Tevin Jones, DT Mike Sims, K Andrew Roberts, LB Gabe Smith.
Who impressed: WB/CB Trevone Sullivan was impressive with his running. CB Kelly Thompson started four games last season.
Notable Newcomers: TE/DE Charles Brown is an incoming freshman. Vasilchek said he looked like a real good athlete.
Spring recap: Condition was a top priority this spring since several players will have to play both ways. The Lions were also looking to add depth to the team since they graduated a large senior class last season.
Coach Vasilchek says: “We were able to accomplish a lot during spring drills. With several guys are going to play both ways in new positions. It created some new excitement in practice for us. We were looking to see how we would compete.”
Coach: Jarrett Laws
2012 finish: 6-4
Returning starters: Four on offense; three on defense
Key returning players: RB Lester Knauls, QB Brandon Pearson, OT Demarko Hill
Key players lost: QB Jay Murray, LB Terrell Jordan, LB Rashad Coleman
Who impressed during spring: Free safety DeAnthony Love was moved to linebacker; OG LaDarrius Bright made some big strides; kicker Abdel Asrr will like give the Titans another scoring threat.
Notable Newcomers: Last season, Henry Coats was a safety on the JV squad. He has been moved to cornerback during the spring. He has good speed as he was a sprinter on the track team.
Spring recap: Although two-year starting quarterback Jay Murray has graduated, rising senior Brandon Pearson has been a reserve. The offense was tweaked some to accommodate his skill set. Laws says there are no superstars on the upcoming team. Running back Lester Knauls is expected to miss the first couple weeks of the season while recovering from a leg injury. Heavy emphasis was placed on rebuilding an offensive line that was hit hard by graduation. Also, Laws said the team worked on conditioning.
Coach Laws says: “I like the team unity we have with this group. They have bought into the workman persona that we have been talking about. It is going to take every piece to make this a good team.
Coach: Ervin Starr
Returning Starters: Four on offense, five on defense.
Key returning players: OL/DL Demonte Jefferson, WR Carlton McCreary, DE/TE Alexis Johnson, S Tim Slade, CB Kirkland Varnardo, MLB Colin Walls.
Key players lost: QB Montell Buchanan, CB Emmanuel Parks, CB Chris Hudley, OL Jarrell Lymon.
Who impressed: The offensive line. Especially juniors Jamari Young and Maikal Williams. Running backs Trey Kennedy and Lolston Fudd stood out amid a talented stable of tailbacks.
Noteable newcomers: Running back Jalen Burney. Starr likes the speed, burst and toughness of the young tailback. He believes that Burney can give Mount Zion a bit more of a home run threat.
Spring recap: Coach Ervin Starr is hoping that switch back to a 3-5 defensive scheme will help Mount Zion utilize its considerable speed and athleticism when it’s time to stop its opponents from scoring. Quarterback Michael Scott, tabbed last year as the heir apparent to the graduated Buchanan, transferred to Druid Hills. That leaves senior Davonte Dudley to assume signal calling duties. Starr called Dudley more of a “game manager,” but given the amount of turnovers from the quarterback position last year, that may not be a bad thing.
Coach Starr says: “We’re getting to the point where now I’ve got these guys who have been with me when we won championships at Rex Mill Middle. Those guys are used to winning. And even though we didn’t win much last year, I’ve told our guys it’s important to realize that we improved greatly as a team.”
Mundy’s Mill Tigers
Coach: Greg Manior
2012 finish: 4-6
Starters returning: 10 on offense; six on defense
Key returning players: RB Rodney Smith, QB Rodricous Gates, TE Ebere Azubulke
Key players lost: DE Chris Holmes, LB Kentarious Ransom
Who impressed during spring: RB Josh Hill and Gates
Notable Newcomers: Khalid Hyton moved into the school district; Malik Stephens moved from fullback to the linebacker spot. Jakyrio Williams is playing football for the first time in two years.
Spring recap: With standout running back Rodney Smith sidelined because of offseason knee surgery, several young running backs got an opportunity to get some reps. Because almost all the starters on offense returning, Manior spent a lot of time added some new plays. The coach was also impressed the offensive and defensive lines.
Coach Manior says: “It was a good prelude into our summer workouts. Our kids knew a lot already because they have been in the system for a year. We were definitely ahead of where we were at this point last season.”
Union Grove Wolverines
Coach: Paul Burgdorf
2012 finish: 10-2, lost in second round of playoffs
Starters returning: Six on offense, six on defense
Key returning players: OL/DL Grayson Fuller, WR/DB Kaleb Ham, QB Jonathan Slade, OL/DL Lane Henderson, LB/RB Luke Parker, LB/WR Luke Brown.
Key players lost: RB Derrick Craine, OL Matt Ivey, DL/FB Tyler Vaughn, WR Terry Gibbs.
Who impressed: Slade took another step into developing into a quality quarterback.
Newcomers to look out for: Trevor Gear is an incoming freshman who could give the Wolverines some depth at running back.
Spring recap: The big focus going into spring was finding depth at running back to replace 2,000-yard rusher Craine. Burgdorf said the team came out with some good candidates. Several players will have to play two ways this season because of some depth issues.
Coach Burgdorf says: “I’m very pleased at the attitude that the guys had during spring practice. We had some guys that step up to lead in their own way. Overall, I felt good about our running back position.”
2012 finish: 6-4
Returning starters: Six on offense and three on defense.
Key returning players: RB Malik Barkley, WR Rodell Shorter, QB K’lin Epps
Key players lost: QB Donavahn Jones, RB Will Smith and OL Jordan Harris.
Who impressed: Epps, a rising sophomore, showed some veteran savvy during spring ball. New coach Kevin Jones said that he held nothing back from the 6-0, 175 pound signal caller, and Epps responded by showing the kind of composure and ability to absorb information that Jones says usually only comes to the “special ones.”
Noteable newcomers: Nicholas Long is not necessarily a newcomer to the team, but to the defense. And he’s already getting some interest from schools just by virtue of passing the eye test. Long stands 6-feet-6, 255 pounds — about 30 pounds lighter than he was last year when he played on offense. Long showed a good burst to the football during spring drills and
Outlook: The first year for any coach has its fair share of challenges, and Jones said it will be no different for him. But Jones has plenty of talent to keep him optimistic that his first year could be more than just a transitionally one. If nothing else, you know Dutchtown will sport a more attacking style defensively. As defensive coordinator for back-to-back state runners up Lovejoy, Jones helped craft one of the stingiest defenses in the state.
Coach Jones says: “Everybody’s going to have to compete for their jobs. There really are no starting positions. Everybody’s going to have to work to get there. The best 11 will see the field. Everybody wants to win state championships but there’s a different kind of work to get there. I don’t even wear my Lovejoy rings now. The next ring I put on is going say ‘Dutchtown’ on it.”
Coach: James Sosa
2012 finish: 2-8
Key players lost: LB Aaron Adwater, RB LaDarrius Mathis
Spring recap: Sosa took over in the midst of preparing for spring drills. He come from Southwest DeKalb where he worked with the legendary Buck Godfrey. The Eagles had about 35 players out for the 10-day drills. Sosa and his staff spent the spring evaluating the talent level and spent less time installing new schemes.
Coach Sosa says: “I was definitely pleased at how well the players picked up on new things. For the late start we got, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the coaching staff or team.”
Coach: Terry Herrod
2012 finish: 7-4
Starters returning: Seven on offense, six on defense
Key returning players: WR Rashad Canty, DE Chinedu Okonya, CB Isa Muhammad, QB Greg Taylor.
Key players lost: LB Troy Wyche, RB Tikeem Cooper, RB Kahmad Magwood.
Who impressed: Taylor seems to have a grasp of the offense to become a fulltime starter.
Notable Newcomers: Freshman Greg White gained the respect of the varsity players with his performance.Spring recap: Herrod only had two weeks to get ready for spring drills after a late hire. The team kept it basis and worked on a lot of its passing game.
Coach Herrod says: “I’m pleased with the way the staff and players have accepted me. The kids were very competitive.”
Eagle’s Landing Christian
Coach: Jonathan Gess
2012 finish: 13-1, Class A champs
Starters returning: Seven on offense, six on defense
Key returning players: QB Dalton Etheridge, DE Andrew Williams, LB Josh Shockley, LB Chase Burdette, DB Bryson Durden.
Key players lost: RB/LB Keyante Green, DT Isaac Rochell, OL Tyler Petty, DB D.J. Curl.
Who impressed: Etheridge only practiced a few days after helping the baseball team win state title.
Notable Newcomers: Brad Moore was a backup last season, but looks poised to step into a starters role.
Spring recap: The Chargers kept it real basic during the workouts. New defensive coordinator Zach Davis wasn’t able to be a spring drills because he was still working in Florida.
Coach Gess says: “I liked the guys attitude throughout practice.”
Coach: Timothy Floyd
2012 finish: 9-2
Returning Starters: Five on offense, three on defense
Key returning players: QB Mario Atkinson, LB Isaiah Seysay, RB Kenneth Hillman,
Key players lost: DB/WR Taurean Ferguson, DB/WR Cameron Sutton, DB/RB Patrick Petty, LB Quinton Edwards, WR Dereon London.
Who impressed: Nothing against the reliable and gritty presence Petty provided in the Jonesboro backfield last season, but coach Floyd said junior tailback Artemus Mitchell and sophomore Montralious Mosely give the Cardinals have “an extra step, extra burst and extra explosion in them” that he perhaps hasn’t had for a while. Floyd says that having a couple of backs who can turn 20-yard gains into 40, 50 or 60-plus yard touchdown runs will add another dimension to the Cardinals offense.
Noteable newcomers: DL Kylee James has gotten substantially bigger and stronger from his freshman year. Rising sophomore safety Subree Curtis turned heads with is playmaking ability as a slash-type player on offense.
Spring recap: Floyd is intrigued with what he called a “talent shift” from last season to now. With SEC signees Sutton and Ferguson departing at defensive back and wide receiver, and with emerging speed merchants showing up in the backfield, look for Jonesboro to display a little more octane in its ground attack. Floyd is looking forward to using the summer to get Atkinson acclimated to his new corps of receivers.
Coach Floyd says: "One of the things with us is leadership. We’ll be playing a lot of sophomores especially on defense. Coming out of spring we have eight sophomores scheduled to start if they can hold on to the spot. Leadership is going to be huge."
2012 finish: 1-9
Coach: Leroy Foster
Returning starters: Seven on offense, six on defense.
Key returning players: QB Courtney Heard, WR Derwin Jackson, WR Tylre Moore, RB Larry Hardnit, C Malik Maull, OL Robert Moore, LB Xavier Essex, LB Fred Crawley, CB Michael Miles, S Keenan Davis and S Tajmel Speight.
Key players lost: LB Cameron Giles, WR Sterling Taylor.
Who impressed: Heard looks poised to take the next step in his second year in Coach Leroy Foster’s offense. He’ll have a talented corps of receivers flanking him in Jackson, Moore, Hardnit and DeMarcus Loman.
Noteable newcomers: Speaking of Loman, the 6-4, 180-pound wideout turned heads in his first spring in football after coming over from the Mustangs basketball team. Coach Leroy Foster expects Loman to stretch the field in the passing game with his size and speed.
Spring recap: When asked how it felt to have a full spring behind him and a full summer ahead of him — as opposed to last year when he was hired just weeks before fall camp began — Foster had just one word to describe it: “Refreshing,” he said. And he’s not the only one that should reap the benefits. Despite its record, Morrow has plenty of talent and speed on its roster. And near misses in games Foster feels it should’ve won last year— Rockdale and Druid Hills especially — has Foster confident that a marked improvement from last year’s 1-9 mark will be seen.
Coach Foster says: “These kids finally getting a full year with the same coaches, under the same system is finally giving them a taste of what a true, year-round football program is like. We had to go back to the basics and teach them things we should’ve been able to implement if we were here last summer. But it seems like they’re buying into it and just having fun playing football now.”
Coach: Joe Teknipp
2012 finish: 1-9
Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense
Key returning players: QB Brandon Dewberry, RB Corey Holloway, WR Warren Wright.
Key players lost: TE Bill Teknipp, DE Shawanye Lawrence, OL Uriah Horne, OL Isaac Dennis.
Who impressed: Dewberry, Holloway and Wright are the Golden Eagles’ big three on offense. And with another year of maturity under their belts, Teknipp said they are looking even more impressive heading into a busy summer of camps and passing leagues.
Noteable newcomers: Sedrick Palmer. The transfer from Henry County High is a known commodity at running back. But coach Joe Teknipp is hoping that Palmer's presence will anchor a linebacking corp that suffered a bit last season. Teknipp said he's also looking for CB Aaron Door and Texas transfer Akil Alexander to make immediate impacts.
Spring recap: Eagle's Landing seldom had any problems scoring points. Palmer and Holloway could prove to be the most dangerous 1-2 punch backfield combo in the Southern Crescent. If the Golden Eagles can get even a little improvement from its defense, look for them to sneak into the playoff conversation toward season's end.
Coach Teknipp says: "I was really impressed with the way our guys just came out and got after the basics this spring. We're just going to keep working to shore up those things that could make us a really good team."
2012 finish: 3-7
Coach: John Kovzel
Returning starters: Four on offense, six on defense.
Key returning players: C, Andrew Johnson, OL Tyler Jenkins, OL Tyler Wesson, OL Joc Case.
Key players lost: QB C.J. Carr, RB Jo Jo Spann
Impressed: Tailback Greg Walker played a lot last year, but Kovzel said he notices that the rising senior has worked hard in the weight room to become noticeably stronger and faster.
Notable newcomers: Tyler Pippen. Pippen is not new to the team, as he saw lots of quality minutes on offense last season, but a knack for pursuing the ball defensively has helped him find a new home on Kovzel's defense.
Spring recap: Replacing Carr and Spann will be huge for Ola. The two graduating seniors were the best playmaking athletes on the team. Kovzel said he feels good, though, about the young talent coming up the ranks.
Coach Kovzel says:"Our summer is going to be busy. We will be attending the most passing leagues ever scheduled since I've been there. Anytime you can get extra work in with the kids there's an extra bonus there."