Prep Football: Unbeaten Heritage School tries to remain focused
By CHRIS GOLTMERANN
At the close of Wednesday’s football practice well behind The Heritage School — with the giggling of female students getting ready for a Homecoming powderpuff game heard off in the distance — Hawks defensive coordinator D.J. Clay stood above a kneeling group of players huddled before him.
Addressing the group in a voice only they could hear, Clay moved his right arm level with his shoulder blade for a moment, and then drew it over his head.
“We used to fly low and sneak up on people,” said Heritage’s Kevin Prisant, who has led the team to a 14-3 record over two seasons in his first head coaching job. “But now, people are thinking in these past two years, people do start noticing no matter who you’re playing.”
In uncharted territory for a seventh-year varsity program, Heritage School takes an 6-0 record following a school-record six straight wins to start the 2012 season into another challenge against a well-established GISA program.
A week after defeating mighty Mount de Sales in Macon where the Cavaliers have won 12 region and four state championships, the Hawks host Stratford Academy – which is coming off last year’s run to the Class AAA title game — with a chance to move to 2-0 in what looks to be a competitive playoff race in Region 2-AAA.
For all the success so far, which has included Heritage averaging 47-points per game following last Friday’s impressive 36-22 victory at Mount de Sales, staying in control off the field may be as important a goal — especially among the distractions of homecoming — as it is focusing on the next opponent.
“We try to stay relaxed and calm. We don’t get ‘look at me, look at me,’” Prisant said. “We have the ultimately goal of wanting to get in the playoffs and then you want to take a shot (at a title). But right now all we talk about is the game we’ve got.”
Stratford (4-2, 1-0) took an important step toward a potential GISA playoff berth while also nearly falling victim to an opponent from Coweta County. The Eagles rallied for two second-half scores to hold off Trinity Christian 22-16 in a game they trailed both at halftime and after three quarters with the Lions coming close to ruining their homecoming.
Now, a Stratford team led by junior quarterback John Mitchell and running backs Austin Simmons and Ken Spears has an opportunity to present the same headache during Heritage’s annual ceremonies tonight.
It expects to be another tough climb for the Hawks, who needed a second-half surge to outscore Mount de Sales 22-8 over the final two-quarters to pull away. Heritage senior Candler Rich continued to haunt opponents with a 168-yard effort while senior quarterback Joe Bonner continued to get comfortable again in his old surroundings behind center in his first start since dislocating his shoulder in the preseason.
“We’ve got pretty good leadership with Candler and Joe,” Prisant said. “[But] the younger guys are stepping into roles.”
It’s been a team effort that has made the difference in improving over last year’s 4-0 start to the 2011 season. A defense led by junior lineman Tyler Henson’s eight sacks has done its job as well, holding opponents to three scores or less through the first six games this fall.
“Our guys are thinking now we’ve got to play as hard as we can to compete at Heritage. We don’t have 55 guys out here with seven different coaches,” Prisant said. “We’re starting to get a little bit of recognition. I get it. We don’t have the tradition some of these other schools.”
The Hawks, though, are beginning to find an identity under a much smaller staff than most opponents. A south Georgia native and former GISA player and assistant, Prisant’s background with the option is beginning to pave a successful road offensively.
The latest decision to have paid off is senior Tyler Nix’s move from guard to fullback, giving the team another bulldozing runner as well as a lead blocker. He’s also among four Hawks with at least 100-yards rushing and seven that have gained at least 50 through the six victories.
“Traditionally Stratford’s been better than us. They are who they are,” Prisant said. “The quarterback [Mitchell] can play and they’ve got two running backs. They just have the tradition. Their head coach, Rodney Collins, he’s a class guy.”
Both Prisant and Clay, meanwhile, have tried to target improvement on a week-to-week basis before looking toward changing the program’s 0-3 record in the state playoffs.
“Right now we just continue to get better as we go on and that’s all we’re looking for,” Prisant said. “If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”