By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Ultimately, high school football scrimmages carry the same objectives as that of NFL preseason games.
Get some players some real time action in a game that doesn’t mean anything to postseason aspirations. Find out if your summer time playmakers play with the same fervor and fury with the pads on as they did without. Sort out the kinks on both sides of the ball and see who may emerge. And last, but certainly not least, escape with as few injuries as possible.
Both Jonesboro — a team which feels it has the talent to compete for a state title — and Woodland, arguably the surprise squad of last season during coach Steve Davenport’s first year, seem to have accomplished that Friday.
Jonesboro won it on the scoreboard 14-7, but both teams were victorious on the sidelines, as each found out a little bit more about who they are, while coming away reasonably healthy ahead of their season openers next Friday.
Here are just a few of my own observations about Friday night’s scrimmage:
-ZERRICK COOPER: Jonesboro’s dual threat quarterback and Clemson commitment, said in the offseason that he was going to do his best to lean heavy on the passing side of his double threat ability. On Friday, he played in his first meaningful game action since his sophomore season, and though he looked a tad rusty — which was to be expected — he showed glimpses of the slippery agility and keen decision making that had recruiters salivating two years ago. Predictably, he played just one quarter, but it was enough for him to get his feet wet and feel good about getting back on the field.
-JONESBORO RUNNING BACKS: The combination of tailbacks Montralious Mosley (senior) and Matavion Brooks (sophomore) could prove to be lethal, and perhaps round into one of the top tailback tandems in the Southern Crescent before the season is over. On a particularly nifty run Friday night, Mosley scampered around left end on a 54-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the first quarter, showing ample breakaway speed once he hit the corner. And while Brooks didn’t match his backfield mate for touchdowns, he showed special burst and surprising toughness on the inside to be as small as he is. Brooks is listed 5-foot-9 on the Maxpreps.com roster, but anything above 5-foot-7 may be generous. Don’t let the size fool you, though. And PLEASE, whatever you do, don’t call him a change-of-pace back, either. There is virtually no drop off and little difference between Brooks and Mosley.
-KALI JAMES: It’s going to be fun following the 5-foot-10, 270 pound defensive tackle’s senior season. After grabbing attention during the offseason for being underrated due to his undersized stature, James ended up committing to Campbell University in North Carolina during the summer. James said the milestone wouldn’t keep him from working just as hard as he did while trying to prove himself, and if the scrimmage is any indication, he’s poised for a special season. Case in point: James burst through Woodland’s offensive line early in the 1st quarter and blasted Wolfpack quarterback Reid Larson, forcing a fumble. Then at the 2:37 mark of the second quarter, he lined up at fullback and pushed his way into the end zone from one yard out, followed by a bit of a quirky celebration that made a few coaches on his sideline chuckle. Don’t be surprised to see some more of No. 9 on offense in goal line situations.
WOODLAND QUARTERBACKS: Reid Larsen and Shakur Brown each played a quarter in the first half, and both showed great escapability in the pocket, with both also making nice throws on the run. Coach Steven Davenport opened the second half with a two-platoon situation under center with senior Michael Hull and sophomore Cole Hedgecoth. But the offense looked largely like a work in progress from the quarterback spot — at least on Friday night.
WOODLAND RUNNING BACKS: Senior Deangelo Albert and sophomore Kareem Rogers looked just as effective as power backs as Brooks and Mosley appeared to be as all purpose backs for Jonesboro. Both ran hard, but Albert especially looks and plays like a load. It helped that the Woodland offensive line seemed to be getting nice push, which is no small feat against a very capable Jonesboro front seven. But Albert and Rogers — Albert particularly — will most likely have to shoulder the load for this offense early in the season as Davenport situates his quarterback situation.
YUSUF CORKER: Woodland’s Yusuf Corker is, hands down, a Division I caliber cornerback. And the blessing of being a top-notch, Division I caliber cornerback is that opposing offenses aren’t going to throw his direction. However, the curse of being a top-notch, Division I caliber cornerback is…well…that opposing offenses aren’t going to throw in his direction.
Corker’s got over a dozen offers from of college football’s blue bloods, but don’t be overly surprised if his stats aren’t gaudy. He’s so good that he literally takes the receiver he’s covering out of the opposing quarterback’s progressions. Look for Woodland to find some innovative ways to get Corker in position to be a supreme playmaker.
JONESBORO TAKEAWAYS: The Cardinals have talent, speed and experience on both sides of the ball to make a deep playoff run and challenge for a Region 4-AAAA title. What Jonesboro doesn’t have — and coach Tim Floyd will admit it — is a ton of depth. Staying healthy will be a major concern for the Cardinals. An early “how-good-are-we” test comes on August 28 at Sandy Creek.
WOODLAND TAKEAWAYS: You’ve gotta be impressed with what you saw from the Wolfpack’s running game. And on defense, linebacker Shelby Poss and Corker are two of the area’s top playmakers. Woodland’s defense is quick and aggressive, and they hit hard. The offensive line seems capable of creating space for their two powerful back. The passing game seems to be a bit of a question mark, at least for now. Woodland’s schedule gives them a realistic chance to start 4-0 for the second straight season, and it will give Davenport and company lots of time to figure things out a bit under center.