Area Georgia prep football updates
Area high school football coaches have looked, are looking or will look for fit and familiarity in spring practice.
"We're looking for depth like everybody else," Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "It sounds like a copout, but it's reality. We'll be trying to get kids in the right positions to help the team and to help them be successful."
Said East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood: "The priorities for us every spring are fundamentals and being physical. We want to evaluate talent."
The rules are the same even for those in first-time head-coaching roles such as Mark Teague, who's recruiting the halls at Howard in an attempt to bolster a 25-man squad.
Other new coaches in southeastern Tennessee include Central's Ryan Mallory, Chattanooga Christian's Rob Spence, Hixson's Dan Duff, Marion County's Ricky Ross, Meigs County's Jason Fitzgerald, Red Bank's Chad Grabowski and Whitwell's R.C. Helton. Like Duff at Hixson, Mark Rose at North Jackson in Alabama has returned to an old job.
Some schools will have full-pads practices and at least one scrimmage with another team. Others won't break out pads -- Mallory, who was hired late, has the Purple Pounders working on conditioning and catching up in the weight room -- and others including East Hamilton and McCallie will not have spring scrimmages.
Because of an incident involving the previous staff before the last regular-season game of the 2013 season, Marion County has a self-imposed moratorium on spring practice and also will miss two weeks in the summer in addition to the TSSAA-mandated dead period for athletics.
"For us, we'll basically have to wait till school gets out and we can get two weeks in June and then will miss two extra weeks in the summer," Ross said. "The positive is that we don't have to worry about [spring practice] injuries. The negatives are that we're putting in a new defense and a new offense, but we're looking to move on and get ready for the season."
Here's a look at what area Tennessee schools and North Jackson are working on:
The Red Raiders have nine total starters returning, which leaves the coaching staff scrambling for both starters and depth.
"It's time for guys to stop watching from the sidelines and get out there and play," coach Phil Massey said.
However, Massey has a FBS-type quarterback in Nick Tiano and other college prospect types in Sean Wampler, Cole McMahan, Colin Brewer and Jon Schmissrauter upon which to build.
Wampler will continue to be a linebacker but also could figure into plans for replacing graduating running back George Porter. McMahan (6-3, 280) and junior Schmissrauter are the only returning starting offensive linemen, and the strong-legged Brewer will be replacing Wisconsin-bound kicker Rafael Gaglianone. Another player to watch is two-year starting outside linebacker Luke Hutchins, who'll get a long look at middle linebacker.
The primary spring goal, coach Jason Reel said, is that no one gets hurt, "but the meat and potatoes is that we're going to try and find some linemen and where they'll help on the offensive line. We graduated two, and both were tackles."
The Warriors also have some questions defensively, although that unit returns nine starters.
"There are questions, some things that I have considered. I want us to really understand our base defense," Reel said.
The woes of last season's disappointing finish could be the sunshine this year. Bledsoe returns 16 starters, including quarterbacks Connor Boynton and Chaise Sorrow, 6-5 receiver Nathaniel Collins and lineman Blake Sorrow.
"It will be interesting to see what happens at quarterback, but we think both need to be on the field," Reel said.
The Buccaneers are coming off another playoff season, and while coach Grant Reynolds has his entire offensive line returning along with running back Austin Jackson, a battle is likely to replace four-year starting quarterback Jim Cardwell.
"It's going to be a pretty good race through spring and summer, and it may be the end of July before we name a starter," the coach said.
The candidates are junior Cooper Hodge, sophomore Ross Wortman and freshman Kohl Henke.
"The good thing about those three is whoever doesn't start at quarterback will start at another position," Reynolds said.
The Bucs also have to replace Cardwell and Brogan Baker as kickers.
College prospects include receiver Damarius Macon and receiver/safety Ethan Cochran, the latter a probable Ivy League candidate.
"We have all kinds of questions. I hope we'll be able to answer some," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said.
The spring cycle will be the same as years past with emphasis on running the football and stopping the run on a team that returns five defensive starters, including the front four, and seven offensively.
"We do it every spring, and last year it didn't help us," Floyd said.
The Bears are looking for a quarterback, and the leading candidate may be another from the Copeland family, this one sophomore Cole. He could be challenged by Daniel Clark and Tyler Carpenter. Those two will slide back over to receiver if Copeland can handle the chore, and both should start on defense.
A leading running back candidate is Christian Hamilton.
When he started spring practice last Monday, coach Brian Gwin did so with 40 players, nine of whom started last year.
"We have more experience in the program and I think more familiarity with the program from the community," the Panthers' second-year coach said.
He continues to maintain that any success Brainerd has will come solely from a group effort, and he mentioned linebacker Kevin Albert and end Jamual Herman on defense and tackle Gequan Landmon and guard Cyrus Salazar on offense.
When pressed about skill players, he responded, "We have a lot of work to do on the skill positions. I don't know that we have the athletes. We have a lot of young guys, but nobody is standing out yet skill-wise."
The Purple Pounders were without a coach since football season ended and didn't get one for sure until Ryan Mallory was hired in early April. There was little if anything resembling a winter workout regimen.
"We're better served working out -- lifting and running," Mallory said. "We have plenty of time to install [offense and defense], and we don't need to worry about banging guys up against each other."
He is working with 40 or so players.
"It's been steady even with kids in other sports or working, and we've had a great response," he said. "The kids understand where they are. They know we are a little bit behind in our strength and conditioning, and I think they're hungry and want to be good."
New coach Rob Spence will be moving in Tuesday, and he'll begin the Chargers' spring practice Thursday or Saturday. He knows that developing depth will be an immediate issue, but he also will emphasize from the start improvement on the team's turnover ratio.
"The first order of business is to protect the football, and the next is to teach great fundamentals," Spence said. "We have to become a better blocking and tackling team."
A move away from the spread offense is possible, but a change in the defense (to a 3-4) is definite.
"We have to build up our football IQ," Spence said. "We'll essentially be in an 'I' formation, but we'll also use some spread. We won't be totally dependent on the dropback pass."
The Blue Raiders are giving coach Ron Crawford reasons to feel good. Although there were players involved in spring sports, there were 71 on hand for the start of spring drills.
Cleveland has Raekwon Bunion and T.J. Parker returning at running back along with most of the offensive line, a group that includes wrestlers Koran Kennedy and John Gaither.
Among the new offensive guys are quarterback candidate Austin Massey, who has spent more time on defense than in a backup offensive role. He must first win the job from another senior (Jake Gibson), but Gibson is in tennis and likely will miss most of spring practice -- and junior Michael May, who was in baseball, is waiting in the wings.
Punter Zach Lee has attended several punting camps/clinics and has gained national rankings.
He lost three of his starting linemen to injury before the first game and was forced to start freshmen and sophomores in what turned out to be a 1-9 season, but Cougars coach Patrick Daley figures that will pay off.
"I think we'll be a little better, although six or seven players will go both ways," he said. "I don't think we've ever been able to two-platoon. We have freshmen and eighth-graders backing up seniors and juniors."
Among the 25 players he thinks he'll have is linebacker Quantavious Brown, a 160-pounder who squatted 600 pounds. Brown will also play some in the backfield.
The Hurricanes have five starters returning on defense and four on offense and must replace quarterback Hunter Moore (Central Arkansas), defensive back Tre Herndon (Vanderbilt) and linebacker/tight end Austin Gatewood (East Tennessee State).
"If you look from the outside, we lost some marquee kids, but we really have a lot coming back. We have a really good group of young kids that have talent," coach Ted Gatewood said.
In addition to his thought that the Hurricanes will be better in the offensive line, he has running backs Matt Milita and David Whiteside back along with defensive back Martez Durrah, lineman Demetrius Morgan (6-3, 380) and quarterback candidates Nick Woods and Caleb Rhodes.
The Pioneers, who had 53 players out, went through spring with a skeleton coaching staff as head man Tracy Malone sought to fill some assistant vacancies. One addition is former Pioneers quarterback Austin Roden, who'll be coaching receivers.
"We blocked off 35 minutes each day to focus on fundamentals, and we did look at some specific things and got some other things installed," Malone said.
The Pioneers return starting quarterback JoJo Tillery, who's drawing college looks as a defensive back, and five of last year's six receivers, including prospect Seth Vaughn. There also are some new names including kicker Gray Smith, two-way lineman Kevin Blair (6-3,280) and basketball player Jesse Jones.
Coach Bob Ateca called the spring a real teaching time for the Golden Eagles, who are looking to replace 13 seniors -- many of them two-way starters.
"Usually, once a kid plays he becomes a two-way player," the coach said.
As positives go, the two returning offensive linemen -- Logan Groves and Dakota Doss -- were considered the team's best in 2013. Ateca also started freshman Jared Thompson the last four games, and one of his tailbacks, sophomore James Rowell, wound up gaining more than 600 yards, most of it late in the year.
Grace will have somewhere around 30 players for spring. All but four are in other sports.
The Yellow Jackets lost a number of two-way players, most among the nine who had started for three years.
"We hope to get a lot done. This will be the most complicated spring we've had because of the missing pieces," coach Nick Bryant said.
The Jackets lost their top four running backs but return their top four offensive linemen. Too, they have two experienced quarterbacks in Houston Mainord, who's currently in baseball, and Hogan Holland.
"We may be throwing more than running until we find some running backs," Bryant said. "It may be running back by committee."
Dan Duff is returning to Hixson, where he coached in the 1990s. He's looking to replace 21 seniors, and he'll also install an option-based offense and a 4-4 defense.
"The only thing I know so far is based on the way the kids looked. They've been working hard in the weight room," he said. "The kids understand what it takes to win, and that's different from when I was here before."
He has most of the offensive line returning but lost the entire backfield. He has met both quarterback candidates and said they will compete through passing leagues and possibly into August.
New coach Mark Teague is finishing out the school year at East Ridge but spent late afternoons with the Hustlin' Tigers and was able to begin recruiting the halls. After a spring intrasquad game in front of the student body, he picked up promises from several prospective players.
"That was a pretty good recruiting tool," he said.
He went through spring drills with 25 but had eight in baseball and 10 others with the track team.
He has zeroed in on a quarterback in sophomore Vincent Bowling, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder.
"He separated himself in the spring. He's a good student and he gave me a nice little present to look forward to," Teague said.
He also was high on sophomore receiver Jahmani Thomas.
"He has good hands and works hard, and he's somebody I know I can count on," the coach said.
Two weeks into the 2013 season the Yellow Jackets were down to a 19-man squad and coach Tony Webb was playing youngsters before their time.
With a small graduating class, he's hoping to reap the benefits this year.
"We return a lot of guys up front and, really, I've never been deeper in the offensive line as last year, but we hadn't had as many injuries in the offensive line," he said. "This year we don't have a ton of skill players, although the guys we have I like a lot."
Leading that group are sophomore quarterback Evan Walker, a two-year starter already, and senior running backs Jaylen Wynn, Javonte Epps and Adrian McGhee.
The Blue Tornado coaching staff will spend much of spring working with younger guys, many of them linemen, because so many of their players are in baseball, lacrosse, soccer or track.
"We'll start with 40-45 and gradually grow to 60 or so," coach Ralph Potter said last week in anticipation of Monday's start.
McCallie has nine starters returning to the defense and seven on offense, including quarterback JaVaughn Craig, who was injured in the team's first 2013 playoff game but is healthy again.
"It was a MCL strain and a three-four-week recovery," the coach said.
The Chargers started spring with 25-30 players and coach Josh Goodin hoped to be around 50 once spring sports ended. His goal was clear.
"We have to re-establish fundamentals. We got away from that a little last year and it hurt us," he said. "It'll be individual and group work -- a little team work but not a whole lot."
There are five returning offensive linemen, a quarterback and two receivers, but the Chargers are casting about for a replacement for graduating runner Denzell Boyd. Two top candidates are speed back Jordan Brooks and power back Jackson Long.
Cherokees chief Bo Cagle scheduled spring drills late -- they started last Monday -- because he also is the school's softball coach.
"I don't think we'll surprise anybody. I just hope we can stay consistent," Cagle said of the 2014 season. "We did well the last five games of the season (4-1) and we hope we can build on that, especially on the offensive and defensive lines."
He figured there would be plenty of work to do. While the offensive line boasts four returning starters and another player who got a lot of playing time, the defense has just five returnees -- three of those in the line, including tackle Israel Brown, who began his career as a running back.
There are several starters returning, but no player had a starting position guaranteed when the Tigers began their spring drills on Wednesday.
"Nobody coming back is entitled to anything. I told them everything is fair game," said new coach Jason Fitzgerald, who joined Meigs after an impressive playoff season at Hixson. "Whoever performs on the field is going to be the one to start, and that goes for every position."
Fitzgerald delayed the start of spring as long as possible, hoping to get baseball players, including all three of the Tigers' quarterbacks from last season. He is hoping for more than 50 players including some recruits from the basketball team. His focus, though, appears to be on the abilities of players along the lines.
"We need to find out what they can do, and those guys will be there to work every day," he said.
When he brought the prospective 2014 Chiefs onto the field last Monday for their first spring practice, coach Mark Rose and his football team were greeted by close to 200 people.
"It is the biggest crowd I've ever seen at a spring practice," said Rose, who returned to North Jackson for the 2014 season after spending six years at Smiths Station in Phenix City, Ala.
But, said Rose, who coached the Chiefs from 2000 to 2008, "I believe we're going to win. I don't see any difference in work ethic. I think we have good enough players to win in 4A. I won't make predictions but I have no doubt we're going to win. These kids are hungry. I worked them like I always have, and they've done everything I asked."
It may help Rose that he has known many of the players since they were 7- and 8-year-olds.
Three Chiefs to watch are wingback/safety C.J. Cobb, two-way tackle Mikell Meeker and tailback Octavius Matthews.
The numbers will be fewer than he'd like because of track and soccer, but Irish coach Charles Fant is likely to have the baseball players including shortstop/pitcher -- and his junior quarterback -- Alex Darras.
"We have averaged 17-19 for spring practice and it's because of spring sports," Fant said. "Spring for us really and truly is more about technique and getting the kids back in the swing of things."
Several of their top skill players are in track, including receivers Kareem Orr and Anthony Flemister and running backs Auston Banks and Ricky Ballard. One standout Fant hopes to see is lineman Joe Dossett, who he expects will be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
"He's already lifting and running," Fant said of the potential all-star.
The priorities were set before the Owls took the field -- identify at least a pair of defensive tackles, both offensive tackles and an offensive guard.
"We have to work to do there, but I feel like we have candidates," coach Mac Bryan said. "We'll see how people develop. It's a process through spring and summer."
While they return nine defensive starters, the Owls also have to replace running back Desmond Pittman and quarterback Brody Binder. The two primary quarterback candidates are junior London Elrod and Kelvin Leon.
There is skill-position talent, though, including wideouts Anthony Turner and Edward Montgomery, the latter of whom also played some at running back.
Bryan issued equipment to more than 75 players and is assuming he'll have 40-plus freshmen also when summer workouts get under way.
How does one replace Zach Miller, the bruising workhorse the Wildcats rode to the playoffs each of the last two years?
"You don't," Polk coach Derrick Davis said. "Some years your quarterback may do more. One year we had a really good wingback. Last year Zach was our guy. This year we'll probably be a little more balanced."
Davis lost a big senior group but had 44 out for spring and was expecting a few from baseball once that season ended.
One of the keys may be Isaac Smith, who was a starting linebacker and also served as the Wildcats' backup quarterback. There is the possibility that Seth Sloan will move from defensive tackle to linebacker and also serve a bigger role in the backfield. Two-way end Luke Harrison is a quality passing target at 6-3, 230, and Ryan Rowland should be at tailback offensively and either at linebacker or in the secondary as well.
"Expectations haven't changed, and being young or inexperienced is part of it," Davis said. "We expect to play hard and compete."
The catch phrase among the Lions is simply "restore the roar." They have begun that task while implementing new offensive and defensive packages brought along by new coach Chad Grabowski.
Offensively they'll be in spread and pistol packages patterned after Auburn -- getting athletes in open space -- and the defense will be a pressuring 3-4.
Among the 55 who collected equipment are receiver/safety Malik Davis, linebacker Courtney Stamper and offensive linemen Myles Smith and Trevor Skiles.
"That's a pretty good nucleus, but we also have a lot of guys coming back that played last year," said Grabowski, who had the team lifting weights, flipping truck tires and doing strongman-like truck pulls.
The Eagles made a great run into the 2013 playoffs, winning the District 6-AAA championship, so second-year coach Mark Pemberton has plenty to build on.
"We put their noses to the grindstone and they responded," Pemberton said of winter workouts.
He also has a good returning nucleus that includes seven starters offensively and nine defensively. Among those are linebacker/fullback Jacob York and two-way lineman Jacob Williams, who set a school bench-press record at 375 pounds.
"We have a lot of kids back that got playing time last year, and the numbers (70-75) are up. Work ethic will be a point of emphasis," Pemberton said.
Quarterback competition and finding youngsters for depth also were to be focal points. The quarterback candidates are senior Austin Thurman, junior Daniel Dodson and sophomore Kaden Dickhaus, who was the freshman team starter last season.
After their first winter workout program, the Panthers will have their first day of spring practice Monday, and despite the desertion of several freshmen from the inaugural team a year ago, coach Ron Cox anticipates having 28-30 players.
"I told them I introduced them to football last year. Now it's time for an introduction to fundamentals," he said. "That's all we'll be working on -- blocking, tackling, running and throwing."
Led by Jase Terry, Daniel Hudgens and Gary Keylon, the offensive and defensive lines likely will be team strengths this season, and Cox is looking forward to the return of quarterback/safety Cody Heard, who was injured in the game with Meigs County.
Garner Cox, the coach's youngest son, has enrolled at Sale Creek and is likely to play in the backfield on both sides of the ball. A senior, he will be attending early college programs at Chattanooga State.
The Indians began spring drills with close to 45 players and were hoping to pick up more after the baseball and soccer seasons end, but this was to be a time for basics.
"It will be very elementary," veteran coach Ken Colquette said. "We'll do the same thing we always do. Who do we think can play this fall? After we find that out, then we'll be looking for depth."
His staff specifically was looking for at least three running backs, more wideouts, seven linemen, three safeties, three cornerbackers and at least three linebackers.
"We're looking for guys we can sub in there and not lose anything, but I think we'll be stronger and a little more physical this year," Colquette said. "We weren't very physical last year. In five of the six games we lost, we just got beat to death."
There are primary ingredients in place including four returning offensive linemen and quarterback Colby Reed, and running back Adam Pickett was among six freshmen who played last fall.
With 18 returning players who started at least three games in 2013, coach Bill Price's emphasis was aimed at developing younger players and competitive attitudes.
Even with a handful of running backs returning, he was seeking to solidify the backfield after graduating bruising fullback James McClellan and fleet wingback Diamez Franklin. He has moved defensive tackle William Franklin to fullback just as he did with McClellan.
"William has never played running back before, but he's faster than James," Price said of the 250-pounder.
He's also expecting big things from wingback Skye (pronounced Sky-E) Wilson.
While Jacob Wright graduates, the defensive line still will have size, including ends Chris Moore (6-3, 255) and Tadarius Hodge (6-5, 235). The biggest player on the squad, and another college prospect, is tackle Harrison Moon (6-6, 285).
There is at least one newcomer expected to play: New Hampshire transplant Nick Spalding, who's projected to be a receiver and part of the defensive backfield.
Of the 13 seniors who have departed, eight were starters and several were two-way players.
"We're rebuilding -- four returning starters on offense and three on defense," coach Al Rogers said.
There will be little work in pads in spring drills because of limited numbers and the youthfulness. Rogers has 20 players involved in spring sports and figured to have no more than 18, including rising freshmen.
"It's an education time," he said. "No pads might make some of the old coaches cringe, but the physical part is the easy part. Our spring will be mental and the technique parts."
Among his key returnees are quarterback Nathan Keylon, cornerback Jordan Delashmitt and two-way lineman Jonathan Sanders.
Standout wrestler Tucker Russo plans to add football to his high school resume and will be among a half-dozen or so running back candidates for the Trojans, who lost all three of their experienced runners from a year ago.
There are five experienced linemen coming back, and coach Justin Barnes is hoping one of those can step in at right tackle.
The guy they'll miss the most is Caleb Watson.
"He ran the ball, he played safety and when we got in a situation where we needed to lock a guy down at cornerback, he'd hop out there and do that," Barnes said.
Quarterback Hunter Maynor is expected to join spring drills after the baseball season ends.
"Hunter had his moments last year. Although he was a first-year starter, he was expected to pick up everything pretty quickly," Barnes said. "We'd definitely love to run it better this year. We saw a lot of defenses that were dropping six defenders, and we have to keep them honest."
The Pirates will miss running backs Kahlil Mitchell, who's headed to East Tennessee State, and Jajuan Lankford, but they do return quarterback Kitt Grider and bruising, between-the-tackles fullback Corbin Fitzgerald.
Grider, though, is one of a half-dozen Pirates still participating in baseball with the District 6-A championship team.
But after those two and tight end McKenna Blevins, coach Tim Moore will have to fill seven slots on each side of the field, and he is seeking dedicated volunteers.
"We'll be young, but we'll be competitive and we'll play hard. Some guys are going to have to step up and take an active role," he said. "The place where we have to do the most work is the offensive line."
There's one starter back in the line (Ethan Moss) and another one (Josh Long) who played a lot. Too, Moore said the Pirates have some good-sized candidates from which to choose.
Wayne Turner had three players in soccer, three running track and four in baseball when spring drills began April 28. He started with 38 and was looking to replace nine starters, including his quarterback, two receivers, a running back and a center.
"I guess for the first time in a long time we'll have a lot of positions up for grabs," the longtime coach said. "There are a couple of people in other sports I'd like to see, because they might be front-runners."
While Emmanuel Moss was in baseball, Barry Clark, a transfer from Florida, was getting his share of looks at quarterback.
"Where we're really thin is up front, although we have four of our five offensive-line starters back," Turner said. "We have some size behind those guys and we'll have a lot of contact, especially in the lines. We'll find out who's hungry."
Mustangs coach Glen Ryan was pleased at the end of spring drills.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but it was a good spring," he said. "It went well and we got what we wanted to see."
He wanted to see if the Mustangs were better defensively and liked what he saw.
"We were better," Ryan said. "We have to be able to stop people. We've scored points in the past, but we've given up too many."
Even with more than a dozen players in baseball and a handful in soccer, the Mustangs made progress.
Among those the coach singled out were quarterback Josh Jones, who took over the job late last year after Corey Cook moved to receiver; running backs Alex King, Avery Jones, Donnell Armor and Cooper Melton; offensive lineman Ian Stanbery; receivers Zach Aslinger and Brice Nunley; linebackers Hunter Newport and Jake Johnson; and end Jalen Martin.
Since spring practice started last Monday, newly arrived coach R.C. Helton and his staff have been in double duty, holding the high school practice and then coaching the middle school team.
"They're still looking for a head coach," Helton said. "We contacted the TSSAA to make sure everything was on the up-and-up to do it, and they said as long as the middle school guys weren't practicing with the high school it was fine."
The Tigers, 22 strong right now with a half-dozen still in baseball, are working on new offensive and defensive schemes.
"I think we'll be around 35-40 when the season starts," the coach said. "The offense isn't really a split-T and it's not really a pistol or an offset 'I,' although it has features of all of the above. The defense will be a '50.'"
With Tyler Cate, last year's quarterback, in baseball, Helton has moved returning runner Cody Ingrassia to that position and has created some competition there.
He has eight starters back on each side of the ball, but most of those are two-way players.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...