Prep Football: Midterm grades are in... and they show progress, potential
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN and DOUG GORMAN
Face it. Nobody likes tests.
The SAT, ACT ... even the DMV. Everywhere a high schooler looks, there’s questions that need to be answered correctly in order to pass an exam.
We did our best during the preseason to provide an educated guess of how our local teams would do this year. Now let’s take a quick peak with a midseason progress report where we analyzed offensive, defensive and special teams units while also weighing the strength of the schedule.
EAST COWETA INDIANS (1-4)
OVERALL GRADE: B-
OFFENSE: Had games been treated like school days, the Indians might have been asked to stay late for extra help between games two and four amidst a four-game losing streak. The unit started at a blistering pace against Henry County in a 35-point effort that showcased the running ability of senior Dee Godfrey. But it hit a wall against tougher opponents, the height of which was struggling to find a first down against Lovejoy until the closing minutes of the third quarter.
Godfrey, at the halfway point, has matched last year’s seven touchdowns.
Friday’s 31-point effort, however, may have been a more encouraging sign of things to come for the Region 3-AAAAAA schedule. With a first-year starting quarterback in Bryce Gemmel finding his rhythm, positive progress was made with a revamped offensive line led by senior tackle Zack Harness and what looks like a larger crop of receivers to throw to including Nigel Gay, Markell Boston and the emerging Wyatt Potter, there’s no doubt that the final grade in November will be much higher after averaging 21.5 points through five games. Grade: C+
DEFENSE: The Indians started the season with a whopping 10 new faces in the lineup, which has caused considerable growing pains. Especially when you look at the uphill road East Coweta has endured so far. Injuries up front have caused some adjustments in the lineup as well, though senior Clifton Strong, sophomore Tristan Mann and junior Qua Fuller are among a group that’s shown potential. The Godfrey brothers, Dee and Jemarcus, along with secondary members Nigel Gay and Markell Boston have also begun to plug big holes left by graduation. Like the offense, this unit has been battle tested heading into the region schedule despite allowing 25.6 points per game. Grade: C+
SPECIAL TEAMS: If there’s an area where the Indians have shined brightest so far, it’s been here. East Coweta’s kickoff units led by returner Dee Godfrey have continuously been a block or two away from busting one loose for a touchdown. Defending them has been even easier with senior kicker Spencer Smith near-perfect among his touchback ratio including all of his kickoffs on Friday. Despite missing two field goals in the opening rout over Henry County, all signs point to him being called to win a close game down the homestretch. Smith’s booming punts for a 37.1 average heading into last week, have equally been an asset. Grade: A
THE HERITAGE SCHOOL HAWKS (5-0)
OVERALL GRADE: A
OFFENSE: At this point in his career, we wouldn’t be surprised if senior running back Candler Rich belted out the pre-game national anthem in perfect tune and sat in with The Heritage School’s pep band at halftime. But the All-State running back, who added three more touchdowns in Friday’s 48-21 win over Southland to four previous, also now has more help than he’s ever had in the Heritage School offense.
Sophomore quarterback Brad Macke, who wasn’t even supposed to start the season, has been more than a lifesaver when fourth-year starter Joe Bonner went down in the preseason. With another TD toss on Friday, he has five touchdowns and one interception in his first five games as a starter. There’s now three tight ends to throw to, including the Jones brothers as well as three fullbacks — the latest of which on Friday was converted guard Tyler Nix, filling in for teammate Dalton Trammell. Patrick McKee and David Bready have also helped offset Rich’s number of carries to keep him fresh and opponents guessing.
In four contested games, the Hawks have scored 199 points for a whopping 49.8 per-game average. Keep this up and Heritage School should be on target for another program first — a playoff victory. Grade: A
DEFENSE: Coordinator D.J. Clay’s unit still has to work on allowing big plays, but most of the points Heritage School allows comes in big chunks, rather than long extended drives. On Friday, the Hawks clamped down at halftime after giving up two scores, a 74-yard run and a touchdown set up by a long pass. The Hawks now have eight interceptions, five by Rich, in five games and five fumble recoveries including one by Trevor Sawyers in Friday’s win over Southland. Tyler Henson entered Friday with six sacks and fellow lineman Richard Ebersbach closed out Friday’s win with one of his own. Grade: A
SPECIAL TEAMS: The best scouting report for Heritage’s opposing kickoff teams should be to take the penalty and boot the ball out of bounds. Rich had averaged 64.5 yards on four returns heading into Friday’s game with three of them going for touchdowns. Kicker/punter Ben Dudley continues to be solid with a 42-yard punt average and three inside the 10-yard line. Grade: A
NEWNAN COUGARS (4-1)
OVERALL GRADE: B+
OFFENSE: The Newnan Cougars are generating plenty of offense through a solid passing attack that includes sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant’s 50 of 71 for 762 yards and 10 touchdown performance through five games. It includes Tray Matthews’ five touchdown catches and Traon Moss’ four scores. If there is a draw back to the season so far, the Cougars are still trying to get their running game on track. However, in the 38-7 win against Hardaway, J.K. Britt rushed for 76 yards all in the first half. Grade: B
DEFENSE: The unit has allowed 21.8 points, including a season low seven points Friday night where Hardaway scored on its last series of the game to avoid the shutout, but the Cougars are still producing some big things. Going into Friday night’s game, Tonaris Portress led the team with 43 tackles and Tray Matthews had 30. Newnan has also sacked the quarterback 5 1/2 times with Cameron Walker getting three heading into Friday night’s game against Hardaway. Grade: B
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game has been nearly perfect for the Cougars in a year where nearly all the faces changed among specialists. Kicker/punter Tyler Mulvenna has booted 2 of 3 field-goal attempts and Connor Cox is 1 of 1. Long snapper Walker Sandlin and holder Drew Morris are working well in getting the snaps down. Tray Matthews has blocked two kicks. Grade: B+
NORTHGATE VIKINGS (2-3)
OVERALL GRADE: B-
OFFENSE: Despite dropping to 2-3 overall after getting shutout by Union Grove on Friday night, the Vikings have shown signs of moving the football against their opponents. Running backs T.J. Womack, Michael Willis and Cole Carter are all averaging right at 5 yards per carry. A healthy Benton Washington adds an extra element out of the backfield. Quarterback Josh Harrison is still finding his way but has thrown three touchdown passes. Brandon Facyson has made some acrobatic catches from his wide receiver spot. Grade: B-
DEFENSE: With three Division I prospects in the starting lineup, including Facyson, Sean Spencer and DeAndre Johnson, the Vikings are as good as advertised on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Connor Usher leads the team in tackles. Spencer went into Friday’s game with four tackles for a loss. He also recovered a fumble for that he returned for a touchdown. Grade: B
SPECIAL TEAMS: Andrew Brady is averaging 33 yards per punt and Zack Braun has hit a field goal and made 8 of 9 extra points. Torres Johnson is averaging close to 30 yards per kickoff return to help give the Vikings solid starting position. Grade: B
TRINITY CHRISTIAN LIONS (3-2)
OVERALL GRADE: B-
OFFENSE: The Lions are coming off another four-touchdown effort individually, this one from senior Jay Warner in Friday’s 37-19 win at Piedmont Academy to improve to 3-2 overall. Both Warner and senior fullback Drew Gibson, who had four scores against Dominion, have given Trinity a powerful 1-2 punch to go with established junior Donterrious Snelling in the team’s running game. First-year quarterback Connor Adams, who had a score last week, has held things together.
Inconsistencies up front on the line should work their way out as Trinity moves along. There’s room for improvement overall, but the Lions have certainly shown they’re not the 2-win lineup from a year ago while averaging 23.5 points. Grade: C+
DEFENSE: Maybe the most improved individual unit in the county, Trinity went from allowing well over 35 points per game in 2011 to allowing five scores in four games. More importantly, the Lions are forcing turnovers at a steady pace, five of which came in the victory over Piedmont. Warner and Gibson’s additions have helped but returning players like Connor Owen, Avery Braxton and Joe Hogan continue to make big plays. Holding John Milledge to one offensive score in the season opener set the tone. Grade: B+
SPECIAL TEAMS: When you have a former NFL All-Pro punter for a head coach, special teams get plenty of attention on the practice field. Trinity’s punt units, with the exception of a bad return against Flint River, have been solid all year. Not too many GISA schools have a depth chart that includes three capable punters led by Cody Houser. Hanson also hadn’t revealed all of the wrinkles he expects to add this season. Grade: B