High School Football

Indians' wait nearly over for season opener, debut under Pardue

by Chris Goltermann

The countdown to East Coweta's 2014 season has reached two days, which head coach Steve Pardue promptly reminded his team while raising just as many fingers on one hand in its post-practice huddle on Tuesday.

After making progress both through the spring and the preseason, highlighted by a scrimmage effort against Griffin, the Indians are set to make their official debut on Friday at home against an Arabia Mountain team that's already been through its opener.

The Rams fell 41-6 last Friday to Stephenson, a program East Coweta may remember well during its previous experiences in Region 2-AAAAA during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

'They came up with the short end of the stick against Stephenson, but I think a lot of people are going to do that,' Pardue said. 'They're a very good looking football team. They're a five-year school so a lot of the guys they have now have played four years for them. We'll have our work cut out for us.'

When East Coweta takes the field at Garland Shoemake Stadium on Friday, it'll be two full weeks between its scrimmage effort and the season opener. The Indians, to Pardue's admission, were hampered last week by sweltering temperatures. As much of a 'lull' has been in waiting for someone to help gauge where player rotations will work on both sides of the ball.

'Last week was tough because of the weather. We didn't get as much done. We've hit a little lull. But it's time to start playing games,' Pardue said. 'Are we ready to play games? No, we're not. But I don't think you're ever ready to play that first game. It's time to play and see what we can do.'

Arabia Mountain may be one step ahead, having gone through its first set of adjustments. The program dropped three games within the first month of 2013 while falling to DeKalb powerhouses Stephenson, Tucker and M.L. King, before rattling off five straight wins in Region 6-AAAAA to finish at 7-3 in its first year under former Westlake head coach Stanley Pritchett.

The Rams drop down to Class AAAA this season while joining a region that includes Marist and St. Pius, both of whom reached at least the state quarterfinals a year ago.

Quarterback Jakobi Meyers, a 6-2, 180-pound senior who has verbally committed to Kent State, leads Arabia's offense, which is going through a youth movement on both sides of the line. The Rams lost two-way starter Jonathan Jones and Purdue signee Gregory Phillips at the receiver position who contributed to Meyers' 1,147 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.

'It all goes through him,' Pardue said. 'They present some problems. You want to put pressure on the quarterback, but you've also got to be able to contain the quarterback too. It's about playing smart and playing your responsibility.'

Much of Tuesday's practice teetered between a lineup with loads of potential this year in Region 3-AAAAAA and one that is still finding its feet on a staff that is running new offensive and defensive schemes under first-year coordinators.

Growing depth on both sides of the line have been a plus, with East Coweta opening the week with Division I prospect Dawson Ellis (6-5, 265) waiting out an ear infection that doesn't appear serious enough to keep him out of the lineup. A group including sophomore center Logan Dockery, seniors Sean Simmons and Anthony Griggs and junior James Leist led the way for at least six running backs going through a rotation in the backfield.

'We're still trying to find out what our rotations are going to be, who's going to be best at what,' Pardue said. 'It's good to have competition and see them go hard at each other. One thing I've been proud of is the depth we're showing.'

Kevin Lashley, Austin Russel l, Lernilous Newsom, Alex Branch, Elishua Orr and starting linebacker Tyler Poythress all took turns in what could turn out to be a deep group of running backs at a position where the Indians do not return a player that gained over 100 yards rushing from 2013.

The bulk of playing time at every position may be judged on who can earn it.

'You earn what you get,' Pardue said. 'This game's very simple. If you don't go hard, you're not going to get many rewards.'

East Coweta had plenty to be pleased about in its scrimmage effort beyond a 31-20 final. The varsity defense held the Bears to two scores among a group that returns at least seven key players from last season. The Indians have also added hulking 6-3, 290pound senior defensive tackle Jamal Thomas following a season-ending injury prior to last fall while moving standout sophomore Jeremiah Gemmel to linebacker.

The offense, under the guidance of sophomore Will LaGuardia and junior Will Morris - two newcomers at quarterback - also picked up steam after struggling early.

'Probably the best thing that I liked coming out of the scrimmage was when we got down, we competed,' Pardue said of a 14-7 deficit. 'Obviously we throw the interception for a touchdown, we'd like to come back and drive it down, and we'd like to have cashed it in, but we drove it down the to 12-yard line. I thought our young kids also competed hard in the opportunities they got in those [first] two periods with the older guys.'

The keys to Friday's opener could come from where East Coweta seems at its strongest to open the year between a veteran defense and a standout kicker in senior Cole Antley.

'We want to play great defense and be physical,' Pardue said. 'We want to be sharp in the kicking game and I think Cole gives us an opportunity every game. These guys give you a lot of looks and we've got to stay patient and know they're going to make some big plays, but when we get the opportunity, make some of our own.'

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