May 5, 2013

Devin Golden: QB races dominate spring practice storylines


— Four of the area’s high school football teams will have to find new names to fill the most highlighted and talked about position on their team.

Three of the teams — Dalton, North Murray and Northwest Whitfield — were arguably the three best from Whitfield and Murray counties.

Heading into spring practices, the biggest questions for the most successful from 2012 regard the quarterback position.

First, who will play it? Then, how good are they? Most important, how good can the team be with him leading your offense?

Regardless of the system a team’s offense uses — Dalton has a run- and play action-based Power-I, North Murray offers the triple option and Northwest uses a shotgun spread — the quarterback gets the most attention and criticism.

“I don’t think there’s a doubt about it,” North Murray coach David Gann said. “The quarterback and the coach are the two that get a lot of the credit and a lot of the blame. I don’t think it matters what system it is. The quarterback is still the one that is looked at more than any other position. A left tackle could miss a block and the quarterback gets sacked, and everyone says, ‘Why didn’t he throw the ball?’”

Dalton, the area’s only team to make the state playoff, is losing Cole Calfee, a three-year starter at the position.

The Catamounts advanced to the second round for the first time since 2005. Calfee’s résume wearing the red and white includes a 19-14 record (23-10 “on the field” after the team was forced to forfeit games during the 2011 season), two postseason berths and a lot of memories handing the ball off to any one of Dalton’s talented running backs.

North Murray, meanwhile, says goodbye to its only starting varsity quarterback in the program’s brief history and possibly the most valuable of any in the area due to the team’s style of offense.

Brady Swilling, who started on varsity since his sophomore season, led the Mountaineers to a 5-5 record, the best in the young program’s three-year life span. In North Murray’s triple-option attack, the quarterback makes every decision. Either he’s handing off to the fullback up the middle, keeping it for a pitch to the running back or turning the corner himself for a sweep. And when the pass option was in play with a receiver crossing the middle or running a streak route, that falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, too.

Swilling, a member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team, did this as well as coach David Gann could’ve asked. Headed to Georgia Tech as an invited walk-on, he rushed for 12 touchdowns and an area-best 1,510 yards — more than half of his team’s total tally for the season — and passed for 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“It kind of shows how much we rely on him because last year’s guy for us was a 1,500-yard rusher and 1,500-yard passer,” Gann said. “So it’s even more important for us.”

Northwest, which finished 6-4 after a brutal triple-overtime loss to Gilmer in the Region 7-4A play-in game to the state playoffs, must replace Silas Ledford. Just starting one season for the Bruins, Ledford threw for more than 2,000 yards in offensive coordinator David Crane’s pass-heavy spread offense.

But if past results says anything, Northwest’s next quarterback will put up similar numbers in a system designed for it. When Crane was Southeast Whitfield’s head coach, Levi Sams broke school records passing for 23 touchdowns and 2,237 yards.

Murray County is the fourth school to lose its starting quarterback. While Brady Todd graduates and leaves an opening, the Indians went 0-10 last season — all 10 losses not close — and new head coach Chad Brewer, formerly Northwest’s defensive coordinator, has a lot more things to work out than that one position.

Southeast and Coahulla Creek will return seniors — Blake Foster for the Raiders and Hunter Williams for the Colts — who played the position at the varsity level last season. Both teams finished 2-8 but improved by the season’s end — note Southeast nearly beating Dalton in the ninth game of the year.

If there is any team not mentioned yet who could stake claim to one of the area’s most successful seasons, then it’s Christian Heritage. The Lions went 5-5 and had a real shot at making the Class A private school state playoffs. Two losses down the stretch ruined that chance, but it was still a good first year for Christian Heritage’s first in GHSA play.

And the Lions have the comfort of bringing back their quarterback, Trevor Brown, for a third season.

What does having a three-year varsity starter at quarterback mean? Well, Dalton’s first year with Calfee was a 7-3 one but no trip to the postseason. The second year (4-7 with the forfeits) ended in the state playoff’s first round. The third year went all the way to the second round and included eight wins. North Murray went 1-9 in its first season with Brady Swilling, 0-10 in the next and 5-5 in the third.

So our outgoing quarterbacks indicate a slope going up in the third year. If that trend continues, then forget having one of the area’s best seasons.

Christian Heritage may have the best season.



Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. He had three seasons of rushing for 1,500 yards and passing for 1,500 yards on Madden 2011. Contact him at devingolden@daltoncitizen.com.