Southland signals start of challenges for Hawks
by Chris Goltermann
If The Heritage School's football team wanted to find out exactly where it stood two weeks prior to the start of the Region 2-AAA schedule, the Hawks might not have picked a better opponent this week than Southland.
The Raiders (3-2), who enter Friday's game in Newnan as Heritage's first Class AAA opponent of the season, will provide an instant litmus test of how far the Hawks are from contending for another state playoff berth following last year's 2-AAA championship.
And they don't expect to make it easy for head coach Kevin Prisant's lineup.
'We'll get hit this week like we haven't gotten hit this year,' Prisant said of a Southland team that has lost games to another 2-AAA opponent in 3-1 Tattnall Square (21-2) and Southwest Academy by a slim 15-14 decision. 'They're always a physical, physical team. I'm excited to see how we react to playing that kind of opponent.'
It couldn't have come at a more perfect time on the schedule for Heritage following consecutive wins over Community Christian (29-14) and Dawson Street (38-6), one more convincing than the next following an 0-2 start. The Hawks also have an upcoming off week to regroup for the start of the 2-AAA schedule on Oct. 11.
The victory over Dawson Street allowed Heritage to rest some of its starters, including senior linebacker/fullback Dalton Trammell, who set a new school record for career tackles with a pair against the Wildcats. The Hawks, who finished with 471 yards of total offense, picked up 344 on the ground.
Junior quarterback Brad Macke finished with 112 and a touchdown on just six carries while also connecting on 9 of 17 pass attempts for 119 yards and two scores without throwing an interception.
It equally allowed newcomers to the lineup to get some quality snaps on the varsity. Freshman Hamp Smith picked up 36 yards on his first five attempts of the year and Will Haugen had 47 on his initial three carries of his varsity career.
'We wanted to make sure the young guys knew our base offense,' Prisant said. 'We didn't huddle up a lot to take the thinking out of it and mixed some things up.'
Despite facing athletic opponents each of the first four games of the season, Southland's skill could present the toughest challenge to date. The Raiders have the ability to run the ball out of the I-formation behind seniors Dustin Shattles (5-8, 160) and Bryce Driver (5-8, 200) at running back and fullback, respectively. Both have posted 100yard games this season, with Shattles posting 134 on 13 attempts in last week's 63-33 win over Terrell Academy.
Shattles, whose brother Blake is a starting linebacker, 'plays a lot bigger than he is,' said Prisant, comparing the Raider senior to Flint River standout running back Will Couch. 'He is the focus of what they do.'
Southland can equally spread the ball wide through the Pistol set between two more seniors, quarterback John Adkins (5-9, 160) and receiver Allen Gleeson (5-9, 170), who like Dustin Shattles, 'is dangerous,' said Prisant.
Gleeson is as much a threat among special teams and ran a kickoff return for a score during last week's win over Terrell. Ahead 42-20 at halftime, Southland recovered an onside kick to begin the second half and eventually converted the possession into a touchdown.
'It may be the best offensive line we see all season. They're very, very good up front,' Prisant said. '[Defensive coordinator D.J. Clay] has done a pretty good job breaking them down. This week we're going to have to play assignment and technique football. They like to get those guys out in space and we've got to be ready for it.'
In an attempt to make the most of a rainy day, Prisant went out in search of some new footballs Wednesday so as not to muddy up the good ones in practice. Much of this week's defensive drills, however, are being done without one to ensure that every player stays with their assignment on every play.
'We've been practicing without the football all week,' Prisant said. 'Every snap, we've had our guys finding their different responsibilities.'
It may be up to some of the newer faces on the defense to play a bigger role this week. While still missing senior David Bready, who expects to begin rehabilitation next week, to an elbow injury, the Hawks expect to be without Trammell as well at linebacker. The senior, who has been hampered by back problems that have limited him to a one-way starter for much of his career, will be able to take a two-week rest prior to the start of region play against Mount de Sales.
'That's when we need him the most,' Prisant said.
Freshman Hamp Carter expects to move into a starting role in Trammell's place after making his first five tackles of the season against Dawson Street, including four solo hits.
Three others, including Haugen, also recorded their first tackle.
Hamp Smith led the Hawks defense last week with nine tackles, seven of which were solo hits. Linebacker Trevor Sawyers finished with seven to take a team-leading 36 into Friday's game.
Cole Jones, meanwhile, recorded three sacks to go with five tackles and a five-yard touchdown catch in last week's victory.
Regardless, after playing three AA opponents and Class A Dawson Street to open the season, the schedule is about to get tougher for the Hawks the rest of the way.
'We've played good teams,' Prisant said. 'But it's for real from here on out.'