Joseph Newman established himself as the Drew Titans’ quarterback with an impressive showing this spring. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
Naturally speaking, the newness and freshness of spring always gives way to the growth and heat of summer, and for football action, it’s no different.
The Georgia High School Association-granted 10-day period for spring football practices, drills and spring games presented us with a first look at the plethora of new and fresh faces that populate the area. Four new coaches means certain squads will look, sound and feel vastly different than in 2013. New region classification means new opponents on the schedule, and the graduation of a star-studded 2013 class of seniors will now open the door for yesterday’s unknowns to become today’s high school household names.
Clayton Daily News sports editor Derrick Mahone takes a look at teams following spring drills:
Coach: Dorwyn Lyles (first season)
2013 Recap: For the second straight season, the Titans missed the postseason as injuries and inexperience was just too much to overcome. Quarterback Brandon Pearson earned all-county honors as he passed for over 2,000 yards with only four interceptions.
Who’s missing?: Beside Pearson graduating, the Titans will have a new coach for the first time in school history. Jarrett Laws, who started the Titans program, and also served as the school’s athletic director, accepted the football coaching job at state-champion Griffin a few days before spring drills started.
Spring focus: Lyles is no stranger to the Titans’ program as he has served as defensive coordinator since the school opened in 2009. New defensive coordinator Chris Mitchum spent the final week getting familiar with his personnel as he arrived from Troup County. Joseph Newman, who spent last season as the backup quarterback in addition to playing wide receiver, takes over the offense with new coordinator Maurice Dixon, who served as offensive line coach last season.
Impressive showing: Lyles says that Newman looked good in his role as the starting quarterback, and running back Marquis Terry continued his progress as one of the top rushers in the county. Newcomer Deveall McClendon worked his way into the starting linebacker spot. He is a move-in from Augusta.
Recruiting update: Terry will likely be the highest recruited player this season for the Titans, but McClendon will get several looks.
Coach comment: “We worked a lot on the tempo of the game. The kids took a lot in and they seemed very willing to learn. We are not going to change a lot from what we have done in the past.”
Forest Park Panthers
Coach: Reginald Austin (first season)
2013 Recap: The Panthers finished with a 2-8 record under first-year coach John Diehl. The highlight of the season was the rushing of Dejuan Sims and the overall play of Brandon Williams, who earned a scholarship to Tusculum, a Division II school in Tennessee.
Who’s missing?: Williams and Sims will be missed this season for their on-field play and leadership.
Spring focus: For Austin, it was a matter of getting to know the players and their strengths. The team will run more spread this season instead of last year’s Wing-T formation. Austin said installing a more blitzing-type defense was also a focus for the team. He said all positions were open for the spring for the players to compete.
Impressive showing: Quarterback Lester Miller is considered one of the best athletes on the team. He played wide receiver last season, but his athleticism prompted Austin to move him to the quarterback spot. Keyonte Brock was impressive at his outside linebacker position, and sophomore Deonte Ragland looks to have secured a wide receiver spot.
Recruiting update: Austin said several schools stopped by to take a look at some players. Brock has been impressive with his 4.4 second-speed in the 40-yard dash and Miller’s versatility has been impressive. Tight end/defensive end Kendarius Kendrick has passed the eye test with his 6-foot-5, 247-pound frame. He was used some at fullback last season.
Coach comment: “I was very pleased with what I saw and what we were able to accomplish in the 10 days. Forest Park didn’t win a lot of games last year, but the players came into spring ready to learn and work. We just have to change the culture about football at the school.”
Coach: Tim Floyd (sixth year)
2013 Recap: The Cardinals lost to Locust Grove in the Region 4-AAAA play-in game for an opportunity to advance to the state playoffs. Jonesboro was sort of young in several spots last season. The team employed a two-quarterback system with Mario Atkinson (Tusculum signee) and rising junior Zerrick Cooper splitting time.
Who’s missing?: Mario Atkinson has now graduated and so has linebacker Isaiah Seise, who is likely headed to Clark Atlanta. They were the two best players on each side of the ball for the Cardinals last season.
Spring focus: The Cardinals paid a lot of attention to ball control and forcing turnovers. Floyd said those were the two weakest areas for the team last season. Several new players, including basketball standouts James “MJ” Walker and Tracy Hector, participated in spring drills. Finding depth along the offensive front was another area of concentration. Three new offensive coaches were also added to the staff.
Impressive showing: Floyd said letting Cooper concentrate on just the quarterback position has opened up things at the free safety spot for Walker, a 6-foot-5 rising sophomore. Aaron Mason also had a good spring at linebacker and Joshua Jones was also singled out by the coaching staff.
Recruiting update: In addition to Cooper landing several scholarship offers, defensive back Jordan Griffin and Walker also landed offers. Floyd said that Jyair Mincey and Marshall McIntyre are starting to get interest from Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Tulane.
Coach comment: “Overall, we still need to address some areas on defense. I thought we made a lot of progress on offense with the addition of some new coaches.”
Coach: Edgar Carson (first season)
2013 Recap: The Wildcats won their fourth straight region championship and advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. In the process, rising senior wide receiver Preston Williams earned several postseason accolades as he is considered the top player in the state at his position.
Who’s missing?: Aside from a talented senior class of Randy Anyanwu, Jason Collier, Justin Brown, and DeMarquis Gates, coach Al Hughes is gone. A fourth straight region title and state playoff appearance wasn’t enough to save his job.
Spring focus: The Wildcats spent a lot of time on offense installing a new run-oriented system that is patterned after SEC power and national runner-up Auburn. Jimmy Lindsay rejoined the staff to become offensive coordinator as Leon Dillard assumes the duties of run game coordinator. Rebuilding the offensive line was a big focus while Kevin Morris-Strong will likely be the featured running back.
Impressive showing: Carson says that tight end Brandon Knight had a good spring alone with Mesheal Custis, a rising sophomore, who will compete for time at the running back spot.
Recruiting update: As always, there is talent at Lovejoy. Williams remains the top wide receiver in the state. Montrell Custis committed to Alabama before the start of spring practice. Randy Robinson is one of the top offensive linemen in the state.
Coach comment: “We wanted to work a lot on establishing the run more this season. We didn’t change a lot from the previous seasons. Overall, the kids bought into what we are trying to do.”
Mundy’s Mill Tigers
Coach: Greg Manior
2013 Recap: The Tigers are coming off the best season in school history with an eight-win season and appearance in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. Running back Rodney Smith had an all-state season with 2,201 yards rushing and signed a scholarship with Minnesota.
Who’s missing?: In addition to Smith, linebacker Jonathan Celestine has also graduated after being named the Clayton News Daily Defensive Player of the Year. He also signed with Minnesota. In all, the Tigers had nine players from this historic squad to earn scholarships.
Spring focus: Finding a replacement for Smith was a big point of emphasis. Also, Manior said getting more physical and being more disciplined were areas the team worked on in the spring. Khalid Hylton, a strong safety, came out of the spring as the top replacement for Smith.
Impressive showing: Quarterback Rodricous Gates, who will assume a lot of offensive responsibility this season had an impressive spring. He was held out the spring game to allow Armani Donaldson and Kaziah Hall to showcase their talents.
Recruiting update: Darius “Pancake” Anderson is one of the top linemen in the area and has several offers going into the summer. Camerro Jones (center) and Brandon Williams (tackle) are also getting recruiting interest. Manior said that Kevin Shedd has received interest as a long snapper in addition to being the team’s linebacker.
Coach comment: “I thought everything went well for us. We had some areas to work on, and we made a lot of improvement.”
Coach: Terry Herrod (second season)
2013 Recap: With over 30 seniors, the Raiders entered the season with some high expectations coming off a playoff appearance the previous season. However, injuries to quarterback Greg White slowed the Raiders down in the latter part of the season.
Who’s missing?: Greg White signed with MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman while wide receiver Rashad Canty inked with Vanderbilt.
Spring focus: Establishing a more physical style of play, especially with the running game was the chief focus of the offense. Newcomer Joseph Cambridge will take over as quarterback while Nate Willliams, a part-time starter at quarterback, is one of the team’s top defensive backs. The Raiders also looked to simplify things on defense.
Impressive showing: Herrod was impressed with wide receiver Greg White, who might be the go-to receiver to replace Canty. Incoming freshman Jalen Hughes of Kendrick Middle might be the answer at the running back spot.
Recruiting update: Chidi Okonya received offers from several schools including Duke, Tennessee, Marshall, Mississippi State, Clemson and N.C. State among his 16 offers. Also, left tackle Jonathan Lay is starting to garner interest because of his size and 4.1 grade-point average.
Coach comment: “I was extremely pleased at how we came out of spring drills. I thought we were able to place kids in a position to make positive plays.”