By Gabriel Stovall
With a couple of days gone by to pour over stats and re-watch footage of Sandy Creek’s 41-0 pasting of Creekview this past Friday at the Corky Kell Classic, it appears — at least for a week — that the Patriots have answered a few questions about their 2015 squad.
Coming off what was a disappointing 11-2 campaign — disappointing for Sandy Creek standards — in 2014 which ended with a loss to Cartersville, the “championship or bust” mentality has been the team’s overarching mantra during the offseason.
Coach Chip Walker has spoken of the intensified focus of his best playmakers — especially seniors like safety Javon Jackson and North Carolina commitment Korey Banks. He’s been high on the trio of tailbacks he’s enlisted to fill in the holes left from now-Ole Miss freshman Eric Swinney.
And as the old cliche goes — and it definitely seems to apply to Sandy Creek over the years — the Patriots don’t rebuild, they reload. But questions are always in abundance at the beginning of a season. Here are my answers, based on Friday’s performance, to seven questions that Sandy Creek fans and football experts alike probably asked during the offseason.
QUESTION: CAN BRYANT WALKER CARRY THE LOAD AT QUARTERBACK?
ANSWER: YES. Chip Walker gets the privilege to coach one of his sons under center again. Last year it was then-senior Trey Walker. Now Trey’s sophomore brother Bryant. The younger Bryant was an efficient 12-of-16 for 135 yards passing and two scores against a Creekview defense — stingy last year — that lost six from 2014. But what stood out about Walker’s performance was his decision making, and some pretty nice touch on some of his throws. Walker didn’t try to play outside of himself. He let the game come to him, didn’t make big mistakes and got the ball to playmakers like Banks in places where they could get yards after the catch. Some call that a “game manager.” I call that a smart QB who picks and chooses his time to make plays.
As long as Bryant Walker does this, he’ll keep Sandy Creek in position to win ballgames.
QUESTION: WILL JAVON JACKSON SEE REGULAR TIME UNDER CENTER?
ANSWER: YES, according to Coach Walker, a part-time two-platoon approach will be employed with Walker, an all-state caliber safety, taking strategic snaps as signal caller. There’s definitely a clear difference in the way Jackson and Bryant Walker approach the position, with Jackson being a bit more athletic and more of a run-pass threat. He’s also got better touch on the deep ball. These two won’t compete, however, as much as they’ll compliment each other. Don’t expect to see an even split, though, as Walker doesn’t want to compromise Jackson’s impact ability on defense, although Chip Walker said he’s got a few packages where both could be in at the same time. It’ll be just enough of a wrinkle to make defensive coordinators think twice.
QUESTION: WHICH OF SANDY CREEK’S THREE RUNNING BACKS WILL EMERGE?
ANSWER: ALL OF THEM. Don’t be tempted to think that this three-pronged approach at tailback is just Coach Walker’s slight-of-hand way of saying that neither Drazyn Parson, Jaelen Greene or Marvin Hubbard has the ability to take Swinney’s spot full time. To watch the three play, you can see why using all of them could potentially be an opposing defense’s nightmare.
Hubbard, a sophomore, has the world class speed (did you see the 86 yard kickoff return Friday?) Parson is diminutive, but sneaky-tough between the tackles, with speed to bounce to the corner and Greene is more of a traditional power back, although he led all rushers with 85 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns. Parson got the most touches — 12 for 64 yards, and Hubbard showed the most burst with his 53 rushing yards on eight attempts.
QUESTION: IS KOREY BANKS AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED?
ANSWER: ASK THE PRESS BOX. While sitting in the McEachern High press box — the football stadium is an absolute palace, by the way, as far as high school facilities go — media types from SCORE Atlanta guys, to 92.9 FM The Game guys to the public address guy were all raving about what kind of talent the North Carolina-bound speedster had.
“He’s the kind of player that, three or four years, if he continues to improve and keeps his head on straight, it wouldn’t surprise you to see him become somebody’s franchise player pick in the NFL,” said one analyst while off air. And they weren’t blowing smoke. Banks’ ability to turn up field and get “YAC” production is uncanny. He can stretch the field on a fly route. He can suck the defense in on screens. He can line up in the slot and get you 10, 11 yard first down grabs in traffic. He’s not the biggest dude in the world, but with his skill set, he doesn’t have to be. As long as Banks is on the field, Bryant Walker has a world class talent to make him look good at quarterback.
QUESTION: DOES SANDY CREEK HAVE ANY DEFENSE TO MATCH THIS OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER?
ANSWER: LOOK AT THE SCOREBOARD. Sandy Creek pitched its first season opener shutout since blanking McIntosh 28-0 back in 2005. The big thing about its defense this year is speed. Linebacker Will Harper is a monster coming off the edge. And Jackson is a ball hawker from his safety position. Jackson snagged his first interception of the season when senior linebacker Devyn Sullivan came off the right edge to pressure Creekview’s quarterback into throwing a duck Jackson’s way. The safety was alert and agile enough to come out of his coverage and snag the pick. Jackson’s coach says to expect more of that from him.
“Ain’t no doubt that (Javon) is going to be that kind of guy for us this season,” Walker said. “He’s a guy that we know will be able to make plays, and if there’s a ball in the air anywhere in his vicinity, he’s got a good chance to come down with it. He’s definitely the leader of our defense.” The Patriots gave up just 14 points per game last year. They’ll be looking to best that total this season.
QUESTION: WILL THE SCHEDULE OFFER ANY SURPRISES?
ANSWER: IT DEPENDS. Honestly, it depends on how you define “surprise.” Last year’s Sandy Creek-Jonesboro game was supposed to be a marquee matchup. But four-star Clemson commit Zerrick Cooper went down at quarterback with a season ending injury for Jonesboro, causing the Cardinals to scramble to the very end to find production, sans their best player. But Sandy Creek fans would be advised not to take this squad from Clayton County lightly. The Cardinals have starting skill position talent that can matchup with almost anyone in Class AAAA. So don’t look for Friday’s game to be a repeat of last year’s 35-6 Sandy Creek win. Besides Jonesboro, the schedule is set up favorably. Several Patriots players have said they’ve circled — in addition to the Jonesboro tilt — games at Woodward Academy and against Fayette County on their schedules.
Woodward pushed Sandy Creek around on the Patriots own home field to the tune of 28-7. Sandy Creek would love to return the favor. That October 23 game could be the de-facto Region 5-AAAA title game.
QUESTION: DOES SANDY CREEK HAVE ENOUGH TO WIN ITS 4th STATE TITLE?
ANSWER: COACH WALKER SAYS: “I think we’ve got a team that if we can continue to improve every week, I believe we can accomplish our goals.” If Sandy Creek can push past Jonesboro and Woodward, an undefeated regular season looks likely. Then — depending on how brackets fall — a playoff rematch against No. 2 Cartersville could be eminent, with top-ranked Buford also likely left to contend with in Class AAAA. Right now, this much we know — Sandy Creek has the talent and the determination to make that run.