Indians looking to right themselves
by Chris Goltermann
It's rare when a football coach enters a year expecting a losing record, even rarer for those who have been used to winning more games than not experience one. Sometimes it's so infrequent, they can't remember the last time they finished under .500.
'I don't. I've been a coach for 31 years and that was the first one I've ever had,' said East Coweta head coach Clint Wade of last year's 5-7 finish as the team began practicing in full gear this week. 'But hey, there's a first time for everything.'
A ma ster of tongue-incheek, Wade is equally serious when it comes to avoiding the same maladies that troubled the Indians in 2012, much of which were the product from a perfect storm of inexperience, reclassification and the schedule.
While the program's streak of 25 straight winning seasons ended following a second-round playoff loss to Camden County, East Coweta's run of state berths remained intact after staying in the thick of the Region 3-AAAAAA playoff race.
The hope - after finishing third in this year's preseason coaches' poll - is that the Indians will be poised for similar success again in November. While there hasn't been an overhaul among systems and methods, there's equally plenty of new faces to go around, both in staff and/or their assignments, as well as personnel.
The previous class of sophomores - many of which saw their share of varsity snaps against Archer, Sandy Creek, Lovejoy and Central (Ala.) over consecutive games in the non-region schedule - will now have to take the lead toward reversing last year's trends.
They included losses in 3-AAAAAA to this year's preseason favorites, Langston Hughes and rival Newnan.
'Some of them just weren't ready, so we had to light a match and see what happens,' Wade said. 'Hopefully it'll pay dividends. We've got a good staff, got a good attitude. The kids are very receptive to what we're doing.'
East Coweta will host a preseason scrimmage on Thursday, Aug. 15 against Whitewater before opening a regular season that includes six home games, the first of which on Aug. 30 against Henry County.
Quarterback Bryce Gemmel and linebacker Jay McKnight were among a group of newcomers asked to step into starting roles a year ago and succeeded. Gemmel, who threw for 1,543 yards and eight touchdowns, loses top playmakers in Dee Godfrey and Nigel Gay, both of whom went on to play for college programs.
Top-receiver Markel Boston- who won this year's Ironman competition - joins tight end Brock Meeker, fullback Malik Robinson and a group of tailbacks led by senior Weylin Orr, who broke away for two long runs from scrimmage in the first day in pads on Thursday.
'Losing Dee and Nigel is huge because those guys were 90-percent of our offense. But there's other guys that are in here and it's their turn,' Wade said. 'We're not sure it they're quite the caliber of players those two were, but there's room for improvement. Competition is a great motivator for them.'
Godfrey, headed to Georgia Southern, and Gay, who signed with North Greenville, made one last trip to the practice field before reporting to college camps. The duo ran plays as scoutteam receivers, quickly gaining the attention of new East Coweta defensive coordinator Ahmand Tinker.
'Coach [Tinker] goes who are those two? I said they were our milk and eggs last year coach, they're pretty good,' Wade said. 'I'm excited about them going on and playing at the next level.
Tinker and the defensive staff have a bit more work cutout with only a handful of returning starters. Of those, they'll be at least another man down.
The Indians lost junior defensive end Tristan Mann - a second-team All-Region selection as a sophomore - to a season-ending knee injury in June during a freak accident while attending a scouting combine. In addition to damaging his meniscus, Mann tore at least two major ligaments including his ACL.
'It hurts, especially with the style of defense we're going to play. It was perfect for him. It was going to be fun,' Wade said of Mann. 'Now we're gonna have to re-adjust things a bit.'
Mann had 92 tackles as a sophomore as well as two sacks while becoming a major thorn for opponents in his varsity debut last fall.
Mann said the injury came when as the first lineman participating in oneon- one drills.
'It kills me to see it,' said Mann overlooking practice on Thursday. 'I just have to be ready to come back even stronger next year.'
The loss of both Mann and the team's other starting end, Cliff Strong, to graduation, would seem to put a bigger emphasis on a group of returning linemen. But may not come at too big a cost while adapting to Tinker's aggressive style with multiple fronts since players will be in a constant rotation.
'The style we're running and the way were doing it, it opens the door for a lot of kids to get in,' Wade said. 'We can utilize them in different ways.'
NOTES: East Coweta will officially unveil its new football uniforms during Sunday's 'Picture Day.'... In addition to winning the Ironman championship, Boston was the top finisher in the pro shuttle, the 10-yard dash (tying with Davion Jackson) and the power clean. The top 11 overall finishers were Boston, Orr, Kevin Lashley, Randel Hinkson, Satchel Horton, Eli Orr, Tyler Poythress, Alex Branch, Davion Jackson and a tie between E.J. Ransom and Tristan Davenport. Boston led senior finishers while Lashley (Juniors), Hinkson (Sophomores) and Carlos Ford (Freshmen) led the remaining classes. Event winners included Lashley (400), Michael Singleton (Over/Under), Qua Fuller (Bench press/Squat) and Weylin Orr (Squat).