High School Football
Hawks looking to fill leadership void on offense
by Chris Goltermann
The Rich family still has roots in The Heritage School's football program, as it has every year since it began varsity play in 2006.
But it's at the elementary school level, where the youngest Rich son, Andrew, will have to wait at least four or five more years to potentially follow in the footsteps of older brother Candler.
A void left by the middle Rich son is one that's irreplaceable on offense this year for the Hawks, at least by just one player, as Heritage prepares for Friday's season opener at Flint River.
Candler, who eclipsed older brother Christopher's career rushing totals with the Hawks capped off his varsity career in 2012 by accounting for 37 of the team's 72 touchdowns and gaining over 2,500 all-purpose yards. Over the last five seasons since making the varsity as an eighth grader, when the game has been on the line, it was more and more common to see Heritage jersey No. 7 wind up with the ball - running, catching, returning or even throwing it to lead the Hawks to victory while a standout running back and defensive safety.
It reached a pinnacle as the Hawks averaged 40.5 points a game during a 11-2 season during a historic run to last year's Class AAA state championship game. With a game on the line, nine times out of 10, head coach Kevin Prisant and his staff put the game in Rich's hands.
Now, though, with Rich a freshman at Yale and Heritage looking to build on that success with just four seniors, it's pivotal for the Hawks find leaders to fill those leadership roles heading into Friday.
And the offensive void seems to loom even bigger with linebackers Dalton Trammell and Trevor Sawyers so far taking hold of a Heritage defense that allowed 17.8 points per game a year ago. The duo are the only returners among last year's top-six tacklers from the 2012 season.
'We've got to find, in a game atmosphere, who is going to step up and fill this loss of leadership,' Prisant said. 'We've got some guys at practice, but we've got so many unproven guys. We think Dalton Trammell and Trevor Sawyers are going to be there on defense. But when you lose 4,800 of your 5,200 yards [of offense], it's going to be tough.'
The losses to graduation only tipped the scales with Rich. They equally included Heritage's top three receivers, all of whom had at least 12 catches, as well as starting quarterback Joe Bonner.
Compare that with Flint River's current situation heading into this year - with the Wildcats returning seniors Seth Short at quarterback, Will Couch (5-8, 170) at running back and Jay Adams at receiver -and there's a noticeable disadvantage for the Hawks heading into Friday between youth and experience among skill positions.
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'Their big core is back and they're a dangerous team,' said Prisant, who scouted the Wildcats at last Friday's home scrimmage against Gatewood. 'They want to play fast and we can't let that determine how we play. I was very impressed with them Friday.'
The former region rivals have played annually since 2008 with the Hawks putting an end to a three-game losing streak with wins over Flint River in both 2011 (21-13) and 2012 (4813). So Friday's matchup should only enhance the anticipation for this year's season opener.
'You can tell they're tired of looking at the same colored jerseys every day in practice,' Prisant said. 'I'm excited about it, because there's been a good rivalry with Flint since the program started. We get along great with their staff and they went out of their way when we went through [the loss of] Tyler [Henson]. They are a class act.'
Flint River should also be more comfortable in its second year under head coach Jason Carrera, despite a change in defensive coordinators this year. Trammell and Sawyers will be tasked with leading the Hawks' goals of slowing down a spread offense that Prisant describes as 'a good spread.'
'It's one read and throw,' Prisant said. 'They're extremely well coached. They're very crisp at what they do. They don't come out and trick you. It's an exciting offense to watch and they fly around on defense too. They play with emotion.'
As impressed as the Heritage coach was in the poise of the 6-2, 190-pound Short at quarterback during last week's scrimmage, the Hawks return a quarterback in junior Brad Macke that led the team to six consecutive victories to open 2012 after Bonner suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason.
The difference, however, for the 5-10, 160-pound Macke this fall is he'll be asked to generate offense rather than keep things running smoothly with the talent around him.
'He didn't have to win games for us last year, but he had to do enough to put us in position to win, and he had the players around him to do it,' Prisant said of Macke, who was 22 of 38 passing for 356 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions in 2012.
'This year, a lot is going to fall on his shoulders. There are going to be times when we're going to have to win this game and we're going to have to say, 'Go do it, Brad.'' Much of those responsibilities fall between the team's three returning skill position players, Macke, senior running back David Bready (5-11, 170) and junior tight end/receiver Cole Jones (6-3, 160).
'With Brad, he's got to understand at this level now, straight ability isn't going to carry the load. He's got to have to understand the game and he's starting to. He's understanding reads and what defenses look like. His footwork and his mechanics are getting better. I am excited for him. I think he is the guy we need to look to.'
Bready should also see his touches increase from last year's 67 carries for 459 yards and four touchdowns, most coming at sporadic moments in games. He also had 10 catches for 131 yards and two scores while Jones finished with two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown as Heritage's top returning receivers from last season.
In turn, Prisant sees his young team much in the position that Flint River was a year ago when the Wildcats went 7-4 and took its lumps from the likes of Heritage and Valwood while finishing second in Region 4-AA.
'With a young team we've got to be, game-by-game, more consistent,' Prisant said. 'We're in the boat that I would think Flint River has just past. They were decently young last year and they have guys who can play the game and believe in each other. Now we have to do the same thing.'