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RISING STARS: Local names to watch as 2018 football season looms
Josh Hardeman
Josh Hardeman, a junior running back at Newton, is looking like a player to keep watch on for the 2018 season. - photo by Sydney Chacon

COVINGTON, Ga. -- Now that the spring football period is over, those two weeks of evaluation have passed and summer has officially begun -- which means last season's freshmen, sophomores and juniors are now officially sophomores, juniors and seniors --  we can update our list of notable names to watch for the 2018 football season. 

It’s a list that builds upon the one we crafted before spring football began, and now armed with opportunities to see some of these players in a new and improved, bigger, faster and stronger state, we can provide more analysis. 

Certainly there are some intriguing storylines to track over the next couple of months before kickoff, and the list of potential 2018 game breakers will no doubt continue to grow. But here’s a start. 

Alcovy Tigers

Overview: If Alcovy’s spring game stopped at halftime, it would’ve been Alcovy 6, Woodland 3, which wasn’t bad, considering the elements. The Tigers’ offense sputtered a bit in the first half during a pretty steady downpour, then the game was called with 5:24 left in the fourth when another thunderstorm came threw the area. But coach Chris Edgar was amped about the progress of his defense — even the reserves and upcoming freshmen who played much of the second half against Woodland starters. 

Names to Note: Several jumped out at us while watching the spring game and spring sessions. Adrian and Andrae Robinson along with Natorien Holloway will provide a solid rushing attack. The offensive line with probable starters Gavin Fletcher, Marcus Perdomo, Antonio Aiken, Chris Simmons and Jimmy Argueta is light years ahead of where it was this time last year, not to mention noticeably bigger and stronger. 

On the outside, Edgar likes transfer receiver Eric Johnson, a player he described as having the route running ability and speed of graduated seniors Kameron Phuong and Nico Johnson, respectively. Defensively, Jalen Banks and James Adams had a strong spring on the d-line, and La’Ken Nettles and Cameron Daniels put on 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason and look like forces at safety and linebacker respectively. Bryson Wilcox could be the leader of the secondary. 

La'Ken Nettles
Alcovy safety La'Ken Nettles is poised for a breakout season in 2018 as he tries to help anchor the Tigers' secondary. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

At quarterback, everyone knows Nicholas Simmons is the guy. But if he goes down, Edgar could insert rising junior Javari Smith into the lineup “just to be an athlete,” Edgar said. Smith is a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder who’s listed as a tight end, outside backer and safety. But against Woodland, he made some nice plays at quarterback. Edgar has also given freshman Andrew Bussey some work behind center. Bussey and his family moved in from Tampa, Florida, and Edgar has been impressed. 

Eastside Eagles

Overview: The Eagles do their own thing when it comes to spring football. Coach Troy Hoff maintains that he doesn’t like doing a spring game because the game planning for another opponent takes away time he could spend on his own guys and all the installation that needs to happen for the incoming freshman class. And although Eastside will lose some big (literally in some cases) pieces to graduation, there’s still enough talent — particularly in the skill positions — to be dangerous and give Woodward Academy and Salem a run for the Region 4-AAAA crown. 

Names to Note: First thing that jumped out at us during observation is the strength of rising junior quarterback Noah Cook’s arm. Cook split time with the graduated Brayden Harper at quarterback in Eastside’s shotgun spread, but Harper got the lion’s share of work, particularly in RPO situations. Cook has improved his speed, however, and has added some weight to his frame. It could be his offense for the next two years. 

Dalton Whitley
Eastside's Dalton Whitley runs after a catch during one of the Eagles' spring football practice sessions. Whitley figures to be a leader in Eastside's front seven from his middle linebacker spot. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

Beyond him, watch for sophomore tailback Quincy Cullins, have a big year. Dalton Whitley and Colby Shivers look like difference makers. Jamari Brown has gotten noticeably bigger and more explosive. He's also garnering the Division I offers to match. Jerry Mays’ length and hands as a possession receiver will be invaluable. Hoff mentioned 6-foot-3 freshman defensive back Devin-Brown as a player to watch for the future. Dustin Morgan will likely be an anchor on the offensive line, but while largely unproven, both Hoff and o-line coach Trey Camps say they’ve got pieces who can be difference makers in the trenches, given enough time to develop. 

Newton Rams

Overview: The Rams are riding a huge crest of momentum into the summer after raising eyebrows and turning heads by thrashing a highly regarded Salem squad 45-6 in the spring game. But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t question marks. Newton’s got a few, namely at quarterback, as junior Neal Howard — last year’s starter once Myron Middlebrooks went down against Archer — and Mississippi transfer LT Stowers look to battle for the starting job. There may not be the marquee names on this current roster that there have been in times past, but plenty of talent abounds. 

Names to Note: Lots of talk has been given toward the progress of running back Adarius Thomas — and rightly slow. We believe him to be one of the most diverse backs in Georgia. But it won’t be a one-man show as long as Josh Hardeman continues to develop. Whereas Thomas is a bit of a jitterbug, scat-back type, Hardeman is a one-cut-and-go slasher with good speed. WR/DB Mike Mathison burst on the scene with a stellar performance on both sides of the ball. Jerrol Hines looks like a more complete wideout. 

Jerrol Hines
Jerrol Hines showed increased explosiveness and strength as a runner/pass catcher this spring. - photo by Sydney Chacon

Diondre Glover looks like a big play waiting to happen as he continues to get experience. Kendrick Carlton is a Division I, Power Five talent at offensive tackle. Khalil Wilcox looks and moves like a big time safety prospect who's starting to get more college looks. And even guys like Greg Lewis and Tyrell Floyd — names you may not have heard before now — have shown off the kind of explosiveness that would make it hard to keep them off the field. 

Social Circle Redskins

Overview: Social Circle may feel better about its spring game than any of the other three area teams simply because it was a win, and wins of any kind have come few and far between for the Redskins over the last few years. But against Walnut Grove Social Circle showed a tough, stingy defense and an offense that can bust a big play. 

Ken Sheats
Social Circle offensive lineman Ken Sheats (77), at 6-foot-3, 367 pounds, is an imposing figure for the Redskins in the trenches. - photo by Sydney Chacon

Names to Note: Tate Peters. Social Circle fans already know him, but this year you may get to see the senior in a different way. Peters spent much of last year as a “slash” player, basically filling in and being a playmaker wherever needed. But this year with the graduation of quarterback Jackson Will, the job behind center is all his. And against Walnut Grove, he showed a penchant for beating you with both his legs and feet. Davis Smith looks like a big-play receiver and running backs Conner Bailey, Chad Branch and Ethan Ryan are serviceable. Ken Sheats may be the next best o-lineman in the area next to Newton’s Carlton. He’s definitely the biggest.