In the state of Georgia — the heart of SEC football country — some might say it’s never too early or too late to think about football.
To that end, while other schools around Newton County are still duking it out for state championships, and while hoops action is gradually heating up, we realize that the 2016 football season in our area is done, which means it’s just the right time to take a peak ahead into 2017.
Future transfers, position changes and the like make it tough to say anything definitive about what could be on the horizon for our three GHSA football teams next year, but we think we know enough to provide a little insight into what Alcovy, Eastside and Newton could be looking forward to next year.
We’ll look at these teams from best record to worst, starting with Eastside.
Final 2016 Record: 7-3-1
2016 Playoff Performance: Lost in the first round to Spalding, 24-17.
Key Departures: QB Austin Holloway; CB Eric Stokes; DB Josh Sims; LB Garrett Stevens; WR/DB Tiaje Thomas; WR Caleb Allen; WR/DB Nick Gaither; K Billy Love; P Juwan Gibbs; DL Cameron Gaither; OL Will Shelton; LB Micah Hart.
Best Game: It’s arguable, but we’ll say the 41-41 tie with Class AAAAAAA county rival Newton was probably the first sign that this Eagles team was a force to be reckoned with. Don’t forget, Newton was ranked No. 7 in the state’s largest classification when the Eagles duked it out with the Rams to a draw — GHSA rules don’t allow for overtime in non-region regular season games.
Toughest Loss: Spalding. And not just because it was the playoffs, or the last game of the season. This one was tough because of all the injuries that left the Eagles shorthanded. Perhaps if this game is played earlier in the season, or if Eastside is fully healthy, we’re talking today, perhaps, about a pending third round opponent instead of the 2017 season.
2017 Forecast: Much has been made of the grit, talent and determination of the outgoing senior class, and make no mistake, much will be lost. But the cupboard is, by no means, bare for coach Troy Hoff. Starting in the trenches, one of the state’s most underrated defensive linemen in Spurgeon Gaither returns for his senior year. Hoff called Brayden Harper “invaluable.” Sophomore running back Taylor Carter looks like an emerging star, and Jamari Brown should join him. Jaylon Lackey is a playmaker at linebacker, and the offensive line may be Lamarius Benson’s to anchor. The biggest task will be filling the holes at quarterback and in the secondary.
What’s Next: Tracking Eastside’s highly recruited seniors while taking a brief break from football before winter conditioning.
Final 2016 Record: 4-6
2016 Playoff Performance: None.
Key Departures: WR/DB Koby Perry; TE Cameron Schadl; WR Tyrese Knox; LB Rai-Quawn Solomon; LB Jerome Williams; LB Austin Davy.
Best Game: That 27-19 win against Duluth to open the season. Not necessarily because Duluth was such a juggernaut, but because the win gave the Tigers its first season opening victory since 2008. It would prove to be a good tone setter as coach Chris Edgar’s bunch would go on to win the four of its first five games of the season.
Toughest Loss: The 10-7 loss to Greenbrier. It was hard fought, emotional and a game that, looking back, Alcovy will wish it could have back. It’s always tough to end the season — and for the seniors, their high school careers — on that kind of a tough note.
2017 Forecast: Some of the seniors the Tigers will lose are foundational leaders and solid players who truly shaped the success of this season after coming off a 1-19 record over the last two years. But the truth is, most of the best playmakers are returning. It’ll likely start with Quindrelin Hammonds and Cameron Anderson. Hammonds will be a senior next year, while Anderson, a sophomore. It’ll be interesting to watch Andrae and Adrian Robinson freshmen duo of twin tailbacks (literally) mature in the next season. Skill position talent should be solid to very good.
What’s Next: In the words of coach Chris Edger, “We need to get stronger, and build a line that can push people around.” That means Alcovy football players should get used to the sound of clinking iron in the weight room this offseason.
Final 2016 Record: 6-4-1
2016 Playoff Performance: Lost in the first round 41-0 to No. 1 Mill Creek.
Key Departures: WR Jeremiah Holloman; DB Jaquan Henderson; LB Jeremiah Brundrage; SS Deonta Clark, Jr.; WR Dante Johnson; RB Kentavis Terrell.
Best Game: Newton’s 13-12 win over South Gwinnett — a team that finished 8-4 and in the second round of the playoffs — looked very huge at the time. A one point win over a region foe in the region opener seemed like it would serve as a positive omen for the preseason No. 7 Rams.
Toughest Loss: It’s a tie between the pair of shutout losses, back to back, to Archer and Grayson. It was a rock bottom point for the offense which was young and beat up and couldn’t present a vertical passing threat to capitalize on arguable the most talented receiving corps in Region 8-AAAAAAA.
2017 Forecast: Although key guys like Holloman and Johnson depart, literally that’s all the Newton offense will be losing. Nine starters should return, including quarterback Myron Middlebrooks who missed the Mill Creek game with injury, and a stable of talented running backs in Adarius Thomas (rising junior) and Nuru Tinch (rising senior). Tinch may be the more talented of the backs, but he struggled with injury in 2016, as did Middlebrooks. The new pass catchers replacing Holloman and Johnson don’t have to be 4-star recruits. But if two serviceable options can be found, the offense will quickly turn into the strength of next year’s Newton squad.
What’s Next: Coach Terrence Banks said he’s focusing now on “getting kids in college.” The Rams have several high profile recruiting prospects who will likely be signing to a Division I blue blood program come December.