By James Butler
Most of the state’s college football teams have either already held spring practice or are currently holding spring practices as they prepare for the 2016 season. An area that has the talent and the size of the Southern Crescent will always have alumni featured prominently in the plans of Georgia’s college football teams and this year is no different.
Here is a look at some Southern Crescent products at Georgia schools other than Georgia and Georgia Tech and where they stand with their respective colleges, beginning with the Southern Crescent’s presence at the FBS’ Georgia State and Georgia Southern:
The Panthers, who will hold their Spring Game on April 16 at Panthersville, have a diverse Southern Crescent flavor on their defense. Seniors Shawayne Lawrence and Tevin Jones, as well as sophomore Nich Long and January enrollee Javonte Lain are all competing in the Panthers’ front seven.
Lawrence, the former Golden Eagle from Eagle’s Landing, has been a starter his first three years at Georgia State and it is no surprise he is occupying a starting defensive end spot this spring. The Luella graduate Jones has 10 career starts and is once again battling for playing time on a deep defensive line in the Panthers’ 3-4 defense. Jones, a rising-senior, can play defensive end and nose tackle.
The depth on the Georgia State’s defense likely means Dutchtown’s Long, a defensive end, and Sandy Creek’s Lain, a pass rusher, may have to wait their turn, but giving younger players opportunities is another reason for spring practices.
Junior Bill Teknipp, the nephew of the late Eagle’s Landing head coach Joe and a high school teammate of Lawrence, is battling for playing time with senior Keith Rucker and sophomore Ari Werts at tight end for the Panthers. Mostly used as a blocker, Teknipp had two catches last season.
Also, Fayette County High School product Akil Hawkins is providing the Panthers depth and versatility in the interior of the offensive line as the backup guard has also played some at center this spring. The redshirt senior has spent the last three years at Georgia State after initially enrolling at Grambling.
The Eagles have three Southern Crescent players, all of whom have played sparingly in their career, competing on the offensive side of the ball this spring. Former Jonesboro running back Ryan Brown is a senior. He carried the ball twice in his first season with the Eagles last season after transferring from Fond Du Lac Tribal Community College. Former Cardinal teammate Isaiah Seise is entering his redshirt sophomore season at tight end. Henry County High School product Drake Grail is also entering his redshirt sophomore season. The offensive lineman has contributed mainly on the Eagles scout team his first few seasons in college.
Georgia Southern is in the midst of its spring practices with the Spring Game being scheduled for April 16 and the final practice scheduled for April 25. With former Valdosta High School head coach Rance Gillespie and former Valdosta State head coach David Dean sharing control of the Eagle’s offense under new head coach Tyson Summers, the Southern Crescent alumni may have a fresh chance to impress.
Kennesaw State has already concluded its spring practices and Justin Sumpter enters his redshirt sophomore season as the school’s top receiver after leading the Owls in receptions, yards, and touchdowns last season. At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds the former Sandy Creek Patriot plays the role of big-play receiver in Kennesaw State’s triple-option attack. Already a known commodity, Sumpter was not showcased in the Owl’s Spring Game. However, former Sandy Creek teammate and wide receiver Christian Branch was.
The redshirt freshman Branch caught two passes for 39 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, in Kennesaw’s State Spring Game. Another former Patriot, offensive lineman EJ Hurley, as well as linebacker Keagan Jordan (Our Lady of Mercy) and offensive lineman Richard Fawole (Drew), are other redshirt freshmen looking to make an impact in their first season of game action
Lineman Ryan Warrior, yet another Sandy Creek alumnus, looks to make an impact as a redshirt sophomore. Other redshirt sophomores looking to make an impact in Kennesaw State’s second season of competition are receiver Cymeon Burden (Eagle’s Landing), defensive lineman Justin Elim (Riverdale), and offensive lineman Chiaza Nwadike (Drew).
Mercer concluded its spring practices on March 4. The Bears had two senior Southern Crescent alumni, Stockbridge defensive back and ELCA defensive back Sebastian Hicks, who were expected to compete for playing time in the upcoming season.
Savannah State recently named Erik Raeburn as its new head coach and will not have spring practices this spring. Quarterback Leon Prunty (Stockbridge) and receiver Dereon London (Jonesboro) were two Southern Crescent players who contributed to last year’s team.
DIVISION II SCHOOLS
West Georgia is finished for the spring, having wrapped-up about a month ago without a Spring Game because of the flu spreading through the team. Rising-senior safety and Stockbridge alumnus Curtis Lindsay was First-Team Gulf South Conference last season for the Wolves.
Valdosta State is in the midst of its spring practices, which will conclude with its Spring Game on April 23. Former Ola lineman Tyler Wesson is competing on the offensive line for the Blazers.
Albany State concluded its spring in mid-March when the Rams’ defense defeated their offense 30-19. Lovejoy’s Toryan Bell plays on the interior defensive line as a rising-sophomore for the Rams. His fellow Lovejoy alumnus Zane Fields and Griffin High School’s Nhigel Phillips were two of Albany State’s most productive defenders last season as juniors.
Morehouse held its Spring Game on Saturday April 9. The Maroon Tigers will count on several Southern Crescent players this season who stood out in 2015. Former Dutchtown offensive lineman junior Jordan Harris was Second-Team All SIAC a season ago and former Mount Zion defensive back senior Emmanuel Parks tied for the team lead in interceptions. Also, former Our Lady of Mercy standout brothers, seniors Lake and Lance McGuffie, will look to be among the Tigers top targets at wide receiver.
Clark Atlanta holds its Spring Game on April 22. Former Stockbridge defensive end Antonio Mallard and former Riverdale defensive back Joshua Powell could be pieces second-year Clark head coach Kevin Ramsey build upon. Mallard is a rising-junior, while Powell is a rising-sophomore.