Jonesboro sophomore James “MJ” Walker has two football scholarship offers despite having never played in a varsity game heading into the season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
As another season sets to kickoff this evening, there are still lingering questions that fans want answered. Over the course of the 10-game regular season, these questions will get answered by the way teams perform on the field.
However, the Clayton News Daily sports staff will look into its crystal ball and answer the five most pressing questions of the upcoming season.
Here is what the sports staff came up with:
1. How will the Jonesboro Cardinals do without starting quarterback Zerrick Cooper?
The talented junior quarterback was supposed to be the face of the team in his first year as a full-time starter. While splitting time last season with the graduated Mario Atkinson, Cooper passed for 1,200 yards on 83 of 156 passing with six touchdowns. With a talented supporting cast of wide receivers and running back, his numbers were expected to go up. Cooper, who has several college offers, recently had knee surgery and is out for the season. The Cardinals will turn to juniors Jason Sears and William Wise to lead them through a tough non-region and Region 4-AAAA schedule. With a talented supporting cast, the Cardinals should still be in good shape if they play to Wise’s and Sears’ strengths. Both are good athletes as they will likely see playing time on the defensive side of the ball.
2. Will Preston Williams of Lovejoy live up to the preseason hype?
Williams comes into the season as one of the most decorated wide receivers in the state. He has already been chosen a preseason all-state player by the Georgia High School Football Daily, an online publication that covers football in the state. He is listed as a five-star prospect and the top wide receiver prospect in the state. For Williams, who has committed to the Tennessee Volunteers, these are the moments he thrive in. He will likely see some double teams, but Lovejoy has enough talent to help Williams continue to be a big part of the offense. Look for another big year for Williams, which should benefit the Wildcats in their quest for a state title.
3. Can Mundy’s Mill match last year’s success?
It was a magical year for the Tigers, who started the year 0-4 to win eight straight games and reach the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. The Tigers graduated its top two players, and several other seniors who are now playing in college. To match last year’s success, Mundy’s Mill will need for its offensive line to come through and quarterback Rodricous Gates to have a big year. The defense will also need to continue to step up and take the pressure off the offense. Reaching the quarterfinals is a big undertaking, but a playoff berth is definitely within reach.
4. Can Kevin Jones rebuild the Mount Zion program?
At one time, Mount Zion was among the elite programs in the county and a regular playoff contender. Jones had success in his only year at Riverdale and was attempting to build Dutchtown into a playoff contender. He is mostly known for making Lovejoy a defensive stalwart as the Wildcats became a state championship contender. Jones will face a huge challenge as Mount Zion is coming off its first winless season in school history. However, there is some talent at the school and the surrounding feeder middle schools are also loaded with talent. Several members of the school’s Class AAAAA track and field championship team will play major roles this year. If the offensive line can hold up, Jones will be on his way in turning it around at the school.
5. What new players will have the most success?
Two players come to mind in Deveal McClendon of Drew and James “MJ” Walker of Jonesboro. McClendon is a 5-foot-10, 235-pound senior linebacker/running back who transferred from a private school in Augusta. He played last year at the Curtis Baptist School where he recorded 182 tackles and rushed for 950 yards and 20 touchdowns. McClendon will be counted on heavily to help the Titans get back into the playoffs this season. Walker is phenomenal athlete who helped lead the Jonesboro basketball program to the Class AAAA title as a freshman last winter. This is his first year of playing football since his eighth-grade year at Rex Mill Middle. Despite not having played any high school varsity football, Walker has football offers from Clemson and Miami. He was named a freshman All-American following last basketball season.