COVINGTON, Ga. -- It's high school spring football season in Georgia. It's the time where offseason strength and conditioning starts to tell the story of how much bigger, faster and stronger area teams have gotten.
It's also the time to monitor the improvement of some of the last year's top performers and a chance to start earmarking new performers who are primed to burst on the scene. Here are five spring football storylines and 13 players to watch over the next couple of weeks.
1. The quarterback battle at Newton. We got an early introduction to rising junior Neal Howard down the stretch of the 2017 season, thanks to a season-ending injury to senior Myron Middlebrooks in that Archer game that everybody in blue and white wishes they could have back. The playbook got scaled back a bit upon Howard’s entrance. But by the time Newton got to Parkview in the playoffs, you could see the young signal caller growing up in front of our eyes. Suddenly, you’re thinking, with a solid offseason, Howard could truly come to own the offense in the next year.
But the quarterback job won’t just be handed to him automatically. Two transfers into Newton, L.T. Stowers and Michael Moreland, should make for an intriguing quarterback battle during the spring and summer. Stowers is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound rising senior who came over from Columbus High School in Columbus, Miss, while Moreland is coming from Palm Beach Central in Wellington, Fla.
Stowers got the lion’s share of the work under center for a 2-9 Columbus squad last year. He completed just shy of 50 percent of his passes for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He also scored a rushing touchdown. He operated primarily out of the shotgun in an offense with plenty of run-pass options. He sports a pretty quick release and can improvise.
Meanwhile, Moreland played sparingly his junior year behind starter Nick Atkins. He completed 17 of 40 passes for 236 yards while rushing for 48 yards on 12 carries in six games. He’s had work under center and also shows a penchant for being accurate in rollout situations.
Newton coach Terrance Banks said a couple of weeks ago that Stowers should be working out with the team during spring ball, while Moreland's presence may still up in the air. But we know Howard will be there armed with some unexpected varsity experience and somewhat noticeably bigger than the end of last season. Whoever ends up winning the job in 2018 will be flanked by solid skill with the likes of wideout Mike Mathison and versatile tailback Adarius Thomas.
2. The offensive shifts at Alcovy. It’s all about taking steps at Alcovy, now heading into Chris Edgar’s third year at the helm of the program. One sign of progress is that college coaches and recruiters are starting to seek out Alcovy players more. A dozen Tigers took a visit to Western Carolina this past weekend, and several others have been steadily getting looks and inquiries since the end of the 2017 campaign. Still looking for that first Region 3-AAAAAA win in the Edgar era, Alcovy’s putting a new man at the controls of its offense as Edgar named offensive line coach Damoio’n Wright as offensive coordinator.
Wright’s understanding of piloting offensive schemes was bolstered by the year he spent helping an Alcovy offensive line — once thought to be the team’s weakness in 2017 — to become more than respectable, even if not the largest bunch of trenchmen around. Wright has made no bones about his desire to craft a fast, aggressive offense that utilizes space and mismatches well. We’ll get to see some of this begin to take shape over the next 10 days.
3. Restoring the trenches at Eastside. Speaking of trenchmen, Eastside may be the area school that took the biggest graduation hits on the interior line as LaMarius Benson (UCF) and 2017 co-player of the year Spurgeon Gaither (Charleston Southern), stalwarts on both sides of the ball, will move on. Trey Camps showed himself to be a get-after-it kind of o-line coach, and although two huge (no pun intended) pieces will be missing, players like Dustin Morgan will be a piece to build around. Noah Cook may not be the same kind of running threat at quarterback as his predecessors Brayden Harper and Austin Holloway, but he has a stable of tailbacks who can take the load off if Eastside can find even an average push up front.
4. Taking the next step at Social Circle. The Redskins are still looking for their first winning season since 2006 and first playoff berth since 2008. After coach Chad Estes took the reigns in 2014, finishing 0-10, he’s followed it up with three similar seasons, 4-6 in 2015 and 3-7 marks in 2016 and 2017. Two names to earmark for 2018: Tate Peters and Ken Sheats. Sheats is a 6-foot-3, 360-pound plus offensive lineman who has the look of a Division I prospect. Both are All Region 2-AA performers. So those names aren’t a secret. The fun of the spring session a Social Circle will be unearthing the other potential playmakers from the roster.
5. Some coaching changes affecting teams’ nuances. While there are no local head coaching changes to speak of, there are some staff shake-ups. At Alcovy, Edgar hired former Georgia Tech and NFL player Red McDaniel as defensive line coach. Former player Kejuan Frazier was brought on to coach wideouts. Zack Davis is moving over to replace Wright as offensive line coach, and Wright will also take on the duty of tutoring quarterbacks.
At Newton, coach Phillip Noble was originally brought in to take over defensive line coaching duties, but he’ll slide over to the offensive line to fill a vacancy left by offensive line coach Kirby Bodiford who has moved on to take a position on the staff of defending Class AAAAAAA state champion North Gwinnett.
Eastside will welcome back coach Frankie Iverson who departed to spend a season at Grayson. Coach Troy Hoff also hired Jon Davis to tutor the defensive line. Davis has had three college stops and was an assistant at Lithia Springs last season.
Players to Watch
1. Kendrick Carlton, Newton OL — You’ll have to travel down the list of the top 150 recruits in Georgia, according to 247sports.com, to No. 123 before you find a Newton County prospect. There you’ll find Carlton, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive tackle who holds an offer from Louisville. Trust, it won’t be his only one.
2. Adarius Thomas, Newton RB — By the time the 2018 season has come and gone, expect Thomas to be one of the more productive offensive players in the area.
3. Jamari Brown, Eastside WR/DB — Eastside’s returning leading receiver and a true lockdown corner who’s also been known to take a kickoff or punt return to the house. One of the most truly versatile players in the area.
4. The Alcovy Twins — We’re talking Andrae and Adrian Robinson. They’ll be four-year starters before their time at Alcovy is done. They’ve been turning heads since they stepped on campus. As juniors in 2018 people will be watching to see them take those next steps.
5. Quincy Cullins, Eastside RB — Barring any injuries or unforeseen circumstances, when you look at this sophomore-to-be toting the rock you may be looking at an emerging star.
Made final showcase ⭐️In did this🦅☝🏾 pic.twitter.com/9BllMIieiK— Quincy Cullins (@CullinsQuincy) April 28, 2018
6. Noah Cook, Eastside QB — Loved what we saw from this rising junior in limited action. He completed passes at a 60 percent clip for 407 yards and four scores. The offense may be his to run for the next couple of years
7. Mike Mathison, Newton WR — Arguably the returning wideout with the most big-play potential. Mathison can stretch the field, produce big plays after the catch and get you a short first down, a la a possession receiver.
8. Khalil Wilcox, Newton DB— The 6-foot-1, 195-pound safety should Be the anchor for the Rams defense with the departure of Rod Kirkland (4 INTs). Wilcox recorded two picks and a pass breakup last season to go along with 29 tackles and two for losses.
9. Jerry Mays, Eastside WR/DB — Mays is long and can make plays on both sides of the ball. With 14 catches and 187 yards, he’s the third leading returning receiver behind Jamari Brown and Taylor Carter. But Mays’ three touchdown receptions led the team in 2017.
10. Nicholas Simmons, Alcovy QB — The rising senior has been treating the quarterback job like it’s his. Simmons came in admirable to relieve last year’s starter Cameron Anderson when Anderson suffered injury. Edgar said Anderson has decided not to play his senior season, so it could very well be Simmons’ job to lose.
11. Jalen Banks, Alcovy DL — Alcovy really could have a talented and active defensive line in 2018, and Banks has the potential to be one of its top performers.
12. Cozbi Craig, Newton, LB — Craig is the top returner in tackles for losses for the Rams. He’s got a nose for the football and is poised for a breakout season.
13. Dejuan Brown, Newton, DB -- This corner wowed at the 247Sports.com MVP Camp at Lovejoy in March, and defensive backs coach Josh Skelton says Brown has the tools to thrive as a starter in 2018.
Our sports staff will come back and add to this list after spring ball is done to track how these players performed and what others caught our eye.