August 11, 2013

Prep football, A to Z

Bring on the bands, the fans and the rock-filled cans

The Daily Citizen

A is for All-Area Player of the Year: Northwest Whitfield’s Isaiah Mack earned the recognition last year in his defensive tackle spot, and he returns for his senior season and a chance to garner back-to-back player of the year awards. But he’ll have some challengers from around the area, including Dalton defensive back Eder Mora, Southeast Whitfield athlete Rhett Harper and Christian Heritage quarterback Trevor Brown.

B is for Bragging Rights: There will be eight games between teams from Whitfield or Murray counties. The first is in the first week, when North Murray travels to face Southeast Whitfield Aug. 30. There’s also the three-team Sub-region 7B-4A round robin between Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast, with the Northwest Bruins hosting the Catamounts Oct. 11, traveling to face the Raiders Oct. 25 and then the Cats hosting the Raiders Nov. 1. Add in Murray County traveling to Coahulla Creek Aug. 30 then hosting Christian Heritage Sept. 6, Coahulla Creek hosting Christian Heritage Sept. 13 and North Murray hosting Coahulla Creek Nov. 1, and there’s a long list of bragging rights at stake.

C is for Calculator: And even that might not help you in figuring out the Georgia High School Association’s Class A power rankings. Even going into the final week of the regular season last year, many teams didn’t know exactly where they stood in regards to making the playoffs.

D is for Drug investigation: Last year, Cass defeated Dalton for the first time ever, beating the Catamounts at Harmon Field 35-7 behind the play of junior quarterback Brandon Etheridge, who rolled up 329 yards of total offense. He isn't likely to be a threat to the Cats or any of the Region 7-4A opponents Cass faces this year. Etheridge was charged in July with trafficking ecstasy, possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a felony violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, according to the Cartersville Daily Tribune. In total, seven people were arrested, including Cass baseball pitcher Cade Williams, who was the winning pitcher over Northwest Whitfield in the region playoff series in the spring. Williams had signed to play baseball at LSU.

E is for Excitement: Regardless of talent, last year’s finish or anything else, each team is filled with hope for the upcoming season. Everyone has the same record right now, and the same chances of reaching the pinnacle of high school football in the Peach State — a trip to the Georgia Dome for a shot at the state championship. Enthusiasm obviously can only take a team so far, but fans with clever noisemakers bring their own enthusiasm as well.

F is for Four-year starters: The four-year starter in high school is a rare thing, and while there may be others around the area, no pair of four-year starters have been as productive as Southeast Whitfield’s Blake Foster and Rhett Harper. Both have been All-Area selections (either as members of the team or honorable mention) in each of the previous three seasons, and barring an early-season injury, there is little doubt that this year will make four. In an age of one-sport specialization, Harper is the rarity of a three-sport athlete, while Foster’s future in college may come on the baseball diamond. But both will have a big impact on how the Raiders fare in year two under coach Sean Gray.

G is for Gamble: Here’s to each fake punt, fake field goal, onsides kick, fourth-and-short attempt, reverse, statue of liberty and any other trick play or risk-taking adventure coaches call during the 2013 season. Some of the most exciting moments in football come when a team rolls the dice, takes a gamble or whatever other casino table metaphor is available. And as with any gambling, a little luck is always necessary to end up on the good side of a 50-50.

H is for Hurt: If you were a Northwest coach, player or fan and didn’t feel this after Gilmer scored the game-winning touchdown last November to clinch a state playoff berth, then you’re a robot. Or you shouldn’t be in Bruin Stadium this season. Gilmer won Region 7’s “play-in” game 40-37 in triple overtime, with the first play of Gilmer’s last possession going for a touchdown. But let that hurt fuel the 2013 Northwest Bruins, who are trying to become coach Robinson’s first squad to make the state postseason and first in program history since 2009. No, those Gilmer Bobcats are not on the regular season schedule, but, yes, a rematch in the “play-in” game is always possible.

I is for Interceptions: Coahulla Creek’s Erick Dominguez led the area with seven interceptions and clinched a spot on The Daily Citizen’s All-Area team last season. Entering his senior year, Dominguez is expected to be the same ball-hawk defensive back for Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin.

J is for Jumbo: In high school, offensive linemen rarely get the fame and fortune of their fleet-footed counterparts or gun-slinging signal callers. But no team can succeed without an impeccable wall protecting the playmakers. Give your running back the holes, and his job is a lot easier. Give your quarterback enough time, and you’ll see the points piling up on the scoreboard.

K is for Kicker: Last year, Northwest coach Josh Robinson pointed to the kicking game as a main reason his Bruins lost 24-19 at Harmon Field to rival Dalton. The Bruins missed a field goal attempt, and an extra-point attempt during the game. Add in the two-point conversion the Bruins failed on — they would’ve done the extra-point kick had Villa made the two kicks mentioned above — and the score is 24-24. North Murray’s kicker, Izzy Hernandez, suffered a season-ending injury the first game of last season, his senior year.

L is for Longevity: No high school coaches in the area really have any, with Dalton’s Matt Land being the dean of football coaching with his fourth season about to begin. Northwest’s Josh Robinson, Coahulla Creek’s Jared Hamlin and Christian Heritage’s Preston Poag are about to begin their third seasons. North Murray’s David Gann and Southeast’s Sean Gray are entering their second. Then there’s Murray County’s Chad Brewer, who has zero years under his belt with the Indians.

M is for Mora: Dalton’s junior athlete was one of the best players in the area last season, so much so that the public address announcer at Sandy Creek praised Mora’s play during the second-round playoff game. He also played a vital role in the Catamounts run to a Class 4A state championship in boys soccer. Switching back from linebacker to safety this season, Mora will be part of an experienced Dalton defense and also handle punts and even played some fullback last year.

N is for Naysayers: For Coahulla Creek, Murray County and Southeast Whitfield, the three schools to finish last season with losing records, it’s time to prove the doubters wrong. The Colts enter their second season competing at the varsity level after finishing 2-8. The Raiders held the same record but showed improvement toward the season’s conclusion. The Indians finished 0-10, and each game was a rout. None of the three teams have any recent success, but a program’s fortune can shift in one season, or even one week.

O is for Offense: Defense may win games and championships, but big gains and scores get the fans out of their seats. Last season, North Murray averaged 34.4 points per game, the most in the area. Murray County, however, didn’t score a whole lot, averaging less than a touchdown a game at 6.8. As for individuals, Dalton running back Kelvis Rhodes rushed for 1,529 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore.

P is for Power I: Rest in peace, old-style football. It’s a new day, and more teams are going to the fast-paced spread offense by the year. Teams like Northwest, North Murray and Southeast used the spread offense either in full or part last season. This year, Murray County will be doing more of the spread offense. But Dalton coach Matt Land refuses to give in to the epidemic known as “basketball on grass.” How long will the Cats stay away from this new era of offense?

Q is for Quarterback: One of the biggest stories coming into the new season is how are the new first-year starting quarterbacks going to fare? Dalton, North Murray, Southeast, Northwest and Murray County will all be breaking in new quarterbacks. These “rookie” starters will have to mature into their starting positions quickly. Coming in our 2013 Football Preview, we will examine the quarterback “psyche” and see what challenges await these new signal callers.

R is for Rookie head coach: Former Northwest and Southeast assistant coach Chad Brewer is the new head coach at Murray County, a program that has struggled for a number of years and needs a fresh start under fiery leadership. Brewer had the passion, but can he bring wins to the once-proud Indians program?

S is for State: One team, Dalton, made the state playoffs last season, but a few teams flirted with the opportunity up to the final two weeks. A few programs would like for this to be the breakthrough season. North Murray energized its fanbase with a 4-1 start but sputtered down the stretch and finished 5-5. Northwest was one play from reaching the state playoffs. Christian Heritage finished 5-5 and needs that calculator help. Southeast went 2-8 but had an outside chance heading into the second-to-last week of the season.

T is for Touchdown!: The weekly special section of The Daily Citizen will return for another football season in 2013. Each week the sports staff at The Daily Citizen will highlight games for each of the seven local teams, individual standouts and offer statistics, standings and other tidbits of information leading into the next Friday night of football.

U is for Underrated: We’re looking at you, Southeast Whitfield. You’re a team that finished 2-8 last season and hasn’t been relatively successful in years past. But the end of the 2012 season showed promise for future years, especially after near-upsets of Dalton and Cedartown in the final two weeks. With senior leadership in Rhett Harper and Blake Foster, can you come out of nowhere and spoil the fun? Or are we ruining your plans? We’re sorry.

V is for Vent: The Georgia Varsity Sports Vent ( is the home to light-hearted humor, personal jabs and down-right trash talking. With local posters such as BrockRules, Kisor, SamRuble and Raider1990, it never seems like a dull moment for the high school sports fans.

W is for Whitfield: Each Friday, pick up a copy of The Daily Citizen and read sports writer Chris Whitfield’s prep pigskin prognostications for each game involving a local team in only a way that he can deliver. Whether you love him, hate him, laugh at him or send him Kool-Aid, his Friday picks column is a must-read for any prep football fan. This ‘W’ also applies to other words, including: wisdom, winner and ... wait, are we talking about the same guy, now?

X is for Xylophone: Our local schools’ marching bands may not have this instrument, but here’s a shoutout to the musical entertainment. It wouldn’t be high school football without the team’s band helping celebrate each touchdown and playing the fight song after the game.

Y is for Youth: North Murray lost the most starters from a year ago to graduation, and only returns five starters total from a season ago. For coach David Gann, this will be as good a season as any to test some of the sophomores and juniors in the program. That includes junior Hinton McConkey. The quarterback is shouldered with the responsibility of replacing Brady Swilling, who rushed and passed for 1,500 yards last year.

Z is for Zek: The freshman at Dalton has arguably the best name in the area. First name “Zek,” last name “Cobb,” he’s a quarterback with athleticism and could see time on the field this season for the Catamounts. Even if he doesn’t make a huge impact, the name “Zek” is still a good one, and we’re hoping he’ll stay in the area for the duration of his high school season. Then again, most names starting with the last letter of the alphabet are good ones.