High School Football
Hertiage on solid ground despite losing record in 2013
by Chris Goltermann
While there won’t be an opponent to worry about at least for another three weeks, some high school football programs already have something to be concerned about in late July — a nasty virus that seems to have reached area locker rooms.
It’s made its way through The Heritage School, as the Hawks opened practice Tuesday without at least seven players, a majority of which to flu-like symptoms.
In years past, however, such an absence at practice could have created chaos for the GISA program. But heading into the ninth year of varsity play, and the fourth under head coach Kevin Prisant, it didn’t create much, at all, of a distraction.
At one point Tuesday, Heritage zipped through at least a dozen plays of a no-huddle, two-minute drill style offense as if in early season form. Of course, Prisant knows it’s a bit easier when you’re running plays against one’s own shadows.
The Hawks won’t hit their home field for real until Aug. 22, when they host Flint River in their 2014 season opener.
Prisant, though, liked the level of competitiveness from the Hawks this summer when they have faced an opponent. Heritage, even with a run-first style of offense, saw success in three 7-on-7 sessions — one of which included former region rival Tattnall Square — in terms defined outside of what’s seen on the scoreboard.
“We didn’t run a lot of stuff, but quarterback wise we were making our reads, throwing the ball and we were going,” he said. “The second one against Tattnall and Landmark. I thought we competed very well against them. The last one I think we we’re trying to do too much, I think, because we had been successful, not making the easy throws. I guess that was a little good and bad, because it seemed like we felt comfortable doing those things. But we definitely got something out of it. I’m not worried about trying to win 7-on-7 games.”
There’s good reason for a bit of a comfort zone. A year ago, where the Hawks roster contained just four seniors and the program was still enduring the pain left by Tyler Henson’s absence following a spring car accident.
The result was a 3-7 campaign that relied heavily on underclassmen, many while gaining their first varsity experiences.
This fall, however, 14 seniors lead a larger group of returning starters. Several others who remain underclassmen, are already stepping into potential leadership roles as the GISA’s subtractions to schools headed to play among the ranks of public schools, open up more opportunities to shine.
“We’re having some guys step up and start becoming leaders because they’ve got to,” Prisant said of a group including seniors Trevor Henson, Chaz Bankston and Davis McChondichie. “We’re still pretty young this year, but we’ve got experience.”
The team will get another chance to prove themselves this weekend when Heritage heads to camp in Rincon for a three-day stretch that will include a chance to compete against Robert Toombs, last year’s Class A state champion, and a Frederica program that also jumps ahead one classification this year to Class AAA.
“I’m excited about getting to camp. Seeing somebody else will be good for us. We’ve done a pretty good job of getting everybody ready and getting everybody a lot of reps. For the young guys, it’s just them seeing the speed of what’s happening.”
The association has split its remaining 39 football-playing schools into AA and AAA classifications, each with two regions. The Heritage School and Trinity Christian join 1-AAA with Young Americans, Griffin Christian, Bethlehem Christian, Loganville Christian, Holy Spirit and Dominion Christian.
Last season’s sub .500 record was only the first for the Hawks since Prisant arrived in 2011 for his head coaching debut, while also snapping a string of five consecutive trips to the state playoffs. Heritage still came within a victory of claiming the No. 4 seed out of 1-AAA in 2013 while battling with rival Trinity in a region dominated by three Macon schools, two of which are leaving for the GHSA.
Even with the departures, the Hawks had reasons to feel positive heading into the summer. Four of the program’s five leading rushers, including senior quarterback Brad Macke return, and Prisant feels the group can turn the offense into a “four-headed monster.”
Macke, meanwhile, continues to grow as a leader according to his head coach after throwing for 1,134 yards and eight touchdowns. There’s just as much potential for him to scale back on 10 interceptions from 2013 while entering his third year behind center after being thrust into a starting role to open the 2011 season when then-starter Joe Bonner was injured.
Henson, fellow senior Ryan Blackstone and talented three-sport junior Cole Jones presented a formidable threesome of potential blockers while lined up together on Tuesday. Jones led Heritage in both receptions (18) and receiving yards (346) while averaging just under 20 per catch. Not included among that group Tuesday was Thomas Gruber, another returning starter.
Peyton Henson, Matthew Burns, Bankston and Hamp Smith, all of which had at least a dozen receptions, are also back among potential targets for Macke.
“We’ve got some weapons,” Prisant said.
Smith was a two-way starter as a freshman last season who also added 51 tackles defensively.
“Ryan Blackstone and Hamp Smith look like they’re on a mission,” Prisant said. “When they’re in the weight room, they’re starting to show some great things.”