Newnan out to replace another Georgia defender
by Chris Goltermann
Anytime you lose a top Division I recruit, there’s going to be a concern for a high school football coach.
But Mike McDonald’s been here before.
Georgia freshman safety Tray Matthews had already helped answer any similar concerns in Newnan High’s secondary three years ago after elevating his play further following the departure of former Bulldog and new St. Louis Rams rookie Alec Ogletree.
Not that finding three suiters in the defensive secondary are going to be as straightforward as that transition. It’s one of a few glaring vacancies that rank high on the list of McDonald and his staff.
“Those three right there were great players for us, so it’s going to be tough to fill their shoes,” McDonald said of Matthews, fellow safety Darrell Morrow and cornerback Rodney Tennie, who had a county-best eight interceptions last fall. “It’s something you go through every spring, though. Right now we’re just trying to see who can help us.”
Newnan will conclude its 10 days of spring practice today with a simulated scrimmage starting around 4 p.m. on the practice fields adjacent to the school’s tennis courts.
“We’ve had a good spring,” McDonald said.
Despite the loss of Matthews, Newnan still had enough talent to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in Region 3-AAAAAA next year. Upstart Langston Hughes, however, should be an overwhelming favorite after returning the bulk of last year’s region title.
While coming off his first year as a starter, southpaw quarterback Bailey Bryant enters his third spring practice well in control of the offense after putting together a gutsy effort to help the Cougars reach the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
Bailey played through a shoulder injury in a 26-23 loss to Colquitt at Drake Stadium after coming off the bench to help lead Newnan back from an early 12-point deficit. He threw for 1,786 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore while hitting 66.5-percent of his attempts.
He’ll have the benefit of rising junior and third-year starter J.K. Britt in the backfield again next fall. Britt recently earned a scholarship offers from both Marshall and Clemson after finishing with 813 total yards and seven touchdowns last year.
Also returning to the backfield is Kelvin Khayyam, who came on strong late in the regular season while now also heading into his junior year.
“Receiver’s another spot where we’ve got some holes to fill. That and the [offensive] line,” said McDonald.
Bailey’s top-two targets from last year — Matthews and Traon Moss — will have to be replaced after each finishing with a team-high 37 catches. Britt had 29.
Newnan may be hoping that Heritage School transfer Spencer Perry fills one of those holes. The other may come from basketball star Immanuel Griggs (6-7, 190), who is out for his third consecutive spring practice. He’s yet to return in the fall, however.
Up front, returning All-County selection Anferney Turner could become the backbone of an offensive front that loses three starters to graduation including All-Region First Team selection Jamal Carlisle. Turner also attracted interest from college scouts.
Junior David Quisenberry (6-2, 195) moved to center late in the year after a season-ending knee injury to junior Myles Moran. Moran has made a full recovery while back on the field this spring. The duo, along with rising juniors Dalton Youngblood and Christian Shellenbarger (6-1, 225), who started five games in 2012 should give the Cougars a boost.
The staff also will go through some minor offseason changes, losing line coaches Chris Ramsey (defense) and Randy Padgett (offense). Padgett’s replacement is a former pupil from Carrollton High, Chad Blevins, who played for the Trojans during state championship appearances in 1997 and 1998.
Jason Earwood moves over to coach the defensive line.
On defense, the loss of three secondary members and five of Newnan’s top-six tacklers, looms large on paper. But the centerpiece remains in the form of rising senior middle linebacker Tonarius Portress.
Preparing to enter his third season as a starter, Portress led the Cougars with 124 tackles to go with three sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions last fall.
“He’s one guy we don’t have to be concerned about,” said McDonald of the First-Team All-Region linebacker, who also is earning his share of looks from college scouts.
Linebackers Terrence Geter and Josh Hill — fresh off track season — and defensive lineman Mark Harris join Britt, the lone returner in the secondary, among returners. Harris had 6 1/2 sacks last season. Turner’s return also adds a pass rusher at the other end spot.
Tristan Bridges, a rising senior, is a candidate to replace Tennie at the other corner while sophomore D’Shon Rosser has showcased his talents at safety.