By Gabriel Stovall
Football season is still about four months away from kickoff, but don’t tell that to the coaches and players who began spring drills this week.
Spring football has begun in the Southern Crescent, as of Monday when Mount Zion kicked off its spring football practices in spirited fashion.
Other Clayton County schools like Lovejoy, Jonesboro and Riverdale will also start their spring sessions this week. The GHSA provides 10 days for teams to conduct their spring practices, which, for most schools, usually culminates with and intra-squad Spring Game scrimmage.
But the GHSA also provides schools the opportunity to forego spring football in order to play two preseason scrimmage games against other teams. Locust Grove, Landmark, Luella and Union Grove will likely exercise the scrimmage option. Wolverines coach Craig Melton said his guys will do mat drills every Wednesday and Friday at 7 a.m. during the spring period.
Next year, schools will be able to play those scrimmages against other squads during the spring period, which ought to make for some interesting competition. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Plenty of intriguing storylines exist for this season.
Here are seven questions we’ll begin searching for answers to this spring:
1. WHO’S THE NEXT MAN UP FOR JONESBORO? The 2015 quarterfinalist squad was rife with Division I talent, which is an awesome thing until all that Division I talent graduates to become Division I freshmen. Coach Tim Floyd felt four years ago that last year’s group, which included Clemson quarterback signee Zerrick Cooper, future Colorado State offensive lineman Jeff Taylor and Kentucky signee Jordan Griffin, would be special. Throw in the departure of guys like running back Montralius Mosley and defensive tackle Kali James, and the Cardinals will have some major holes to fill in 2016.
2. WHICH NEW COACH IS BEST PRIMED FOR IMMEDIATE SUCCESS? Six programs in the four-county Southern Crescent area will welcome new coaches in 2016. They are: Griffin (Antonio Andrews), Mundy’s Mill (Dwayne Davis), North Clayton (Cap Burnett), Morrow (Jerome Weaks), Whitewater (Bryan Holley) and Our Lady of Mercy (Jarrett Laws). Weaks at Morrow may have the toughest job finding talent, while Andrews will have to fend off the uprising cross-county rival Spalding Jaguars. Burnett will no doubt have some pieces to work with at always talent-loaded North Clayton, and Holley will have to replace the only coach (Amos McCreary) Whitewater has ever had.
3. CAN BRYANT WALKER TAKE THE NEXT STEP AT QB FOR SANDY CREEK? The rising junior and coach’s son was efficient if not spectacular for the Patriots in 2015. He threw for 1,538 yards and 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions, and had a 62 percent completion rate. He also had guys like South Carolina freshman-to-be Korey Banks to throw passes to and Ole Miss incoming freshman Chandler Tuit protecting him up front. The Patriots will be loaded at running back in 2016, so that will help. But Walker having a full year of experience under his belt will be priceless. We saw him this past Saturday at the Georgia Tech spring game, and he already looks taller and bigger since December.
4. IS THE CUPBOARD BARE (NO PUN INTENDED) AT GRIFFIN? Knee-jerk reaction answer is “No. Of course not.” But what many don’t want to admit is that former coach Jarrett Laws didn’t have a vintage Griffin squad last season in terms of talent. There are some pieces there, like rising sophomore DT Tru Thompson. But does new coach Antonio Andrews have enough playmakers this season to get them inching back toward dominance? And maybe even more importantly, will Griffin fans be patient enough to allow Andrews to build his program?
5. WHAT’S IN EAGLE’S LANDINGS’S FUTURE? Last season was a different kind of year for the Golden Eagles, as they dealt with the passing of beloved coach Joe Teknipp. Teknipp’s longtime assistant Shawn Jones was tabbed the interim coach, and the team played admirably, given the 2015 season’s uniqueness and emotional undertones. And while you never “get over” that kind of heartbreak, it will be interesting to see what kind of forward progress Eagle’s Landing can take, now that Jones has shed the interim tag, and the program belongs to him. Eagle’s Landing loses some great talent, like speedster Antonio Gibson, but some intriguing pieces return — players such as rising junior quarterback Cam Lewis, rising senior lineman Rodrick Russaw and potential playmaker Star Rawls.
6. WHO PLAYS QB FOR ELCA? Yeah, I know. We could’ve asked “Can ELCA repeat as Class A champs,” but this question is pretty much the same thing. Gone will be D.J. Hammond who masterfully engineered ELCA’s 2015 state title run, along with tailbacks Trevor Gear and Josh Mayes. Gear and Mays will return, so whoever slides under center for the Chargers will be buoyed by one of the best 1-2 running back punches in all of Class A. But the only two players from last year’s roster that had “QB” by their names was Brandon Beard, who was listed as a 5-foot-9, 151 pound sophomore, and Brayden Rush who was a freshman. No doubt coach Jonathan Gess won’t be going into the spring or summer completely optionless, so perhaps we start piecing together the 2016 quarterback picture for ELCA this spring.
7. WHAT WILL SPALDING DO FOR AN ENCORE? After a program-best 2015 campaign, the Jaguars return all the important pieces from their playoff squad from last season. It will be interesting to see what players such as quarterback Naricuss Driver and tailback A.J. Moses do this spring to show that coach Nick Davis’ bunch is ready to take the next step.
Here’s a list of our area’s GHSA schools and their Spring Football schedules:
Fayette County — May 2-13, Spring Game, May 13, 7:30 pm
Sandy Creek — May 2-12, Spring Game, May 12.
Starr’s Mill — May 2-12, Spring Game, May 13.
McIntosh — May 2-12, Spring Game, May 13
Our Lady of Mercy — May 2-13, Spring Game, May 13
Landmark — NO SPRING BALL
Whitewater — 5/2-5/13, Spring Game, May 13, 6pm.
Lovejoy – April 27-May13, Spring Game, May 13
Morrow – May 2-13, Spring Game, May 13
Mount Zion — 4/25-5/6, Spring Game, May 6
Jonesboro — 4/28-5/13, Spring Game, May 13
Drew — May 2-13 — Spring Game, May 13, 5 pm (tentative).
Riverdale — April 28-May 12, Spring Game, May 13
North Clayton — May 2-13, Spring Game, May 12
Forest Park — May 2-13
Henry County – May 9-20
Dutchtown – May 9-20
ELCA — May 9-20
Eagle’s Landing — May 9-20, Spring Game TBA
Locust Grove — NONE
Luella — NONE
Ola — May 9-20, Spring Game May 20, 7pm
Union Grove — NO SPRING PRACTICES — Two Fall Scrimmages and mat drills every Wed/Friday at 7am during the spring period.
Stockbridge — May 9-20, 4:15pm, Spring Game May 20, 5:30 pm
Woodland — May 2-12, NO SPRING GAME
Griffin — May 4-14, Spring Game, May 19 TBA. (New Coach — Antonio Andrews)
Spaulding — May 9-19, Spring Game May 20, 6pm.