Players, coaches prepare for senior All-Star Game

by Chris Goltermann


East Coweta quarterback Bryce Gemmel runs a play under the watchful eye of Newnan coach Kenny Morris during practice on Tuesday at Drake Stadium. 

With a week to go until Christmas the 2013 high school football season may be over. But that didn’t stop one group from taking the field Tuesday at Newnan High’s Drake Stadium.

Members of this year’s Central All-Stars were hard at work preparing for Saturday’s annual D.L. Scott Coalition Bowl at the Georgia Dome in a rematch of last year’s victory over the North.

Players and coaches from Coweta’s three GHSA high schools are well represented, with at least 18 expected to participate in the exhibition game, which is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Atlanta as part of a full showcase of youth and varsity level games.

The majority of last year’s local participants played major roles in a 10-0 shutout over the North including MVPs Rodney Tennie (Newnan) and Spencer Smith (East Coweta). Along with Coweta County, schools sending senior representatives to the game include Langston Hughes, Douglas County, McIntosh, Whitewater, Fayette County, Central-Carroll, LaGrange, Troup and Callaway.

It’s also a rare opportunity for rivals to unite. Many bounced around the field like giddy kids waiting for Santa Claus’ arrival on Christmas Eve as the team went through an intense goal-line practice period, vocally celebrating each play as a victory or defeat as if they were preparing for a Friday night under the lights instead of a Saturday exhibition.

And that was just the coaching staff.

“It’s a lot more fun than being the head coach,” said Northgate’s Tommy Walburn, who joins Newnan colleague Mike McDonald and Cougars co-defensive coordinator Jeff Bryant on the All-Stars’ defensive staff along with former Newnan player Rico Zachary. Zachary is coming off an impressive debut year as Central-Carroll’s head coach where he led the Lions to the Class AAA state quarterfinals.

Fayette County’s Mike Davis is leading this year’s All-Star staff.

The All-Stars’ offensive staff equally brings together all three coordinators from county schools, Newnan’s Kenny Morris, East Coweta’s Tom Gochenour and Northgate’s Kesley Dalrymple. Newnan’s James “Radar” Brantley will again act as the team’s head trainer.

While area coaches enjoyed the opportunity to work together, the experience has been just as rewarding for players, who will also have the chance to showcase their skills in front of college scouts. A majority of last year’s participants went on to join college rosters as freshmen this fall.

“I was telling my mama that I’ve had the most fun practicing this week,” said Newnan senior linebacker Tonarius Portress, who led the Cougars in tackles en route to earning All-Region 3-AAAAAA honors in his final varsity season. “There’s a lot of talented players out on that field.”

Portress put off a week of varsity basketball to focus on his final high school game.

“Don’t get me wrong. I like basketball,” he said. “But this is football. I had to be out here.”

While some of this year’s participants already have received college offers, among those in attendance at Tuesday’s practice was West Georgia Tech head football coach Walter Dunson. The program will begin play next fall as Georgia’s second junior college football program.

Besides Portress, linebackers on this year’s All-Star team include Langston Hughes First-Team All-Region 3-AAAAAA standout Kalil Gray and Whitewater senior Colton Clemons.

Meanwhile, Portress is joined by defensive teammates Mark Harris (First Team, All-Region 3-AAAAAA) and Chris Porter (Second Team, All-Region 3-AAAAAA) on the line.

East Coweta is represented on the Central All-Star defense by senior standouts Markel Boston (Region 3-AAAAAA Defensive Player of the Year) at safety and Brock Meeker on the defensive line.

Cougars and Indians found themselves equally lined up side-by-side on the offensive line, with Newnan senior Anfenney Turner and East Coweta senior Qua Fuller — both All Region First Team players — lining up at right guard and right tackle during most practice snaps on Tuesday. The pair is joined up front by Langston Hughes All-Region standout Jahlil Mathis-Ellis and Douglas County’s Quintavious Sands.

Indians senior quarterback Bryce Gemmel, who also was a First Team Region 3-AAAAAA selection after accounting for 19 touchdowns this season among 2,043 yards of offense, rotated behind center with McIntosh standout Andrew Johnson, who led the Chiefs to an 8-3 season for the most wins in program’s 32-year history.

McIntosh is also represented on special teams with kicker Nick Alvey and punter Charlie Goedtke. Newnan senior Walker Sandlin, an All-Region 3-AAAAAA long snapper, completes the team’s specialists.

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