Spring is in full bloom, which means football is in the air once again.
Then again, in SEC country and in a place like Georgia where virtually any dot on the state’s map points you to a potential hot bed of high school football talent, when is football not in the air?
Colleges have wrapped up their spring football seasons. You saw our coverage of Georgia and Georgia Tech’s promising spring football games last Sunday, complete with a local flair of Newton County talent sprinkling the atmosphere. Now it’s “game on” for the high schools.
All across the state, high school football teams will begin their two week spring practice sessions, with most of our area’s football talent stepping on the field during the first two weeks of May. And an extra added wrinkle to the spring football schedule from the Georgia High School Association which allows teams to play their spring game against other schools, adds a bit of local intrigue.
Newton and Alcovy will face off in a special spring football game on Saturday May 20 at 7:00 p.m. at Sharp Stadium, giving both schools — not to mention fans — an early glimpse at what could be in store for the 2017 season.
But before we get there, there are some spring football storylines that permeate our gridiron scene, and we want to whet your appetite with five of things to watch going into the next few weeks of hot-weather football.
Here are our Five Spring Ball Storylines:
1. Departures are a call for upstarts. For every one of our three GHSA football schools, there have been mass departures due to graduation. And that’s a good thing. Coaches want to see their kids graduate and move on to bigger, better and brighter things. But it also creates a tense time for talent evaluation, as coaches try to figure out who can be best plugged in to help fill certain voids. Perhaps no one has been hit harder than Eastside — at least as far as the loss of senior leadership goes.
Over 20 will depart from last season’s 7-3-1 playoff team. But it’s not the quantity as much as it is the quality that will create an interesting offseason search for emergents. Gone is quarterback Austin Holloway. Also running back Anthony Brown and wideouts/defensive backs Eric Stokes and Josh Sims. Also key defenders like Garrett Stevens and Cameron Gaither. But the returning talent is big too. Names like LeMarcus Benson, the recent South Carolina commit, and rising junior tailback Taylor Carter will return. Brayden Harper and Jamari Brown will have a chance to be featured wideouts. So the cupboard isn’t bare.
Same with Newton. No more JJ Holloman. He’s already elevating his game to UGA standards. But a slew of other departures like Jaquan Henderson and Josh Tukes (Georgia Tech) and Kentavis Terrell as well as Deonta Clark, Jr. will change the Rams’ landscape. It’ll be interesting to see how Myron Middlebrooks and Darnell Jefferies take those next steps as senior leaders on offense and defense respectively. Also players like Jaison Taylor, Tyrese Peacock, Adarius Thomas and a healthy Nuru Tinch will have a chance to shine.
At Alcovy, though there were departures, coach Chris Edgar, now moving into his second year, says that 90 percent of his skill guys return. So for the Tigers, it may not be as much of who’s next as it is next steps. We’ll get to that more in a moment.
2. Who’s the next Newton County blue chipper? Obviously a discussion like this is mere conjecture until the pads start popping and we get into mid October. But the aforementioned Benson from Eastside and Jefferies from Newton seem to be the two names on most Division I recruiters’ lips right now, as far as Newton County goes. But don’t sleep on guys like Taylor and Tinch. If they have big summers, followed by huge seasons, their recruiting radar blips could grow big, fast. Also, keep your eyes on Carter at tailback over at Eastside. He looks like he could be “next level” special.
And at Alcovy? Well, let’s just say Hammonds is starting to turn some heads with his athleticism. To the point where last Wednesday, there was a Bryan McClendon sighting at Alcovy. McClendon is one of South Carolina’s hardest recruiters. And on his way to checking on Benson, a Gamecocks commit, he stopped by to talk with Edgar about Hammonds. Edgar said Hammonds has gotten long, hard looks from the likes of Army, Georgia State, Furman and The Citadel.
3. Can Alcovy take the next step? Speaking of Alcovy — and going back to the earlier statement about the Tigers’ returning skill — there were plenty of good feelings surrounding the end of the 2016 campaign for Alcovy and Edgar. It was about as happy as you could get from a 4-6 finish to a high school football season. But as it has been well documented, those four wins represent three more than what Alcovy could muster in 2014 and 2015 combined. And with virtually all of its key guys returning, with Edgar another year wiser as a head coach and with a few staff tweaks, you’d have to think the motto around Alcovy now is playoffs or bust. The schedule will be the same, with the only difference being flipped venues. So we could stand to see a strong point of comparison between Edgar’s first team and the 2017 squad.
4. Who’s next under center at Eastside? That’s a great question, and honestly one that’s hard to answer right now. That’s because we’ve seen such a small sampling size of signal callers from the Eagles in 2016. Of the 251 pass attempts and 2,068 passing yards Eastside rolled up last year, Holloway, a graduating senior, accounted for 226 of those attempts and 1,880 yards. Next behind him was Harper, who really thrives as a receiver. He went 13-22 with 178 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. The only other player to record a pass attempt last year was freshman Noah Cook who went 2-of-3 for 10 yards in three games of action. But everybody was unproven at some point. One thing’s for sure. The line, with Benson, should be stout. And a potential first-team all-region performer in Carter could be emerging at tailback. A good line and a good running game always makes things easier for a new man under center. Getting a first hand glimpse at Eastside’s early options at quarterback will be a priority of ours this spring.
5. Spring game prophecy. Call me crazy, but I think the May 20 spring game between Alcovy and Newton will say a lot about each team. Both will probably try to downplay the significance as little more than a glorified practice. But it’s hard to think that the winner — or at least the team that feels good about that way it played — will walk out of Sharp Stadium that night with a boatload of confidence heading into summer conditioning and 7-on-7s. If Alcovy shows well, it’ll do nothing but confirm that it’s 4-6 campaign last year wasn’t a fluke. If Newton dominates, it may show that the Rams have no intentions of fading away, despite the loss of some offensive firepower. That game will have some major confidence implications, one way or another.