Whether 98 days is a long time probably depends on whom you’re asking.
A kid waiting for Christmas to arrive? Long time.
Someone in colder climates anticipating a two-week cruise to the tropics? Long time.
A high school football coach trying to get his team ready for a new season? Too soon.
But that’s how long it is until the 2012 high school football schedule — and with it, the GHSA’s new six-class system, region realignment and plenty of other changes for local schools — gets going for the area. Dalton will kick off a full week ahead of other schools in Murray and Whitfield counties, with the Catamounts traveling to Ringgold on Aug. 24 to play the first regular-season game in the Tigers’ rebuilt Don Patterson Stadium, which suffered tornado damage a year ago.
The area’s other 2012 season kickoffs will come on Aug. 31, with Christian Heritage at Model, Coahulla Creek at Murray County, North Murray at Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield at Pepperell.
Tonight, six of those seven teams will take their final looks at what this year’s spring practices have accomplished by playing intrasquad scrimmages at their usual home sites. Dalton gets things started with a 5:15 p.m kickoff, with Northwest (6 p.m.), North Murray (6:30 p.m.), Southeast (6:30 p.m.), Christian Heritage (7 p.m.) and Coahulla Creek (7:30 p.m.) to follow. Murray County finished its spring session with a scrimmage last week.
Here’s a glance around the area’s spring practices as local teams begin the shift into summer preparation for fall action.
• FULL HOUSE: During Christian Heritage’s second week of drills, the Lions got an infusion of athletes as football players who also play baseball joined the group after the school’s run in the GISA Class 2A baseball state playoffs came to an end with a doubleheader loss in Thomasville on Saturday.
“We got them back out there, and there is just a big difference this year. They know our packages,” said Lions coach Preston Poag, who’s entering his second year leading the program and preparing to make the jump from the Glory For Christ Football League to the GHSA.
“(But) we have a good many out that didn’t play last year, and it is good to see how they can help us. Last year, we had all of our best players on the field the entire time, and with some of these other players we will have some depth and be able to give guys (rest) here and there.”
The Lions had 33 players out for the spring, with Poag aiming to have 40 by the time the season rolls around. Still, the coach likes what he has seen this spring.
“The surprise has been some of the skill guys that are young, but they are going to be able to step in and play,” he said. “Some of my linemen have gotten stronger, and that is going to help us out a lot. We have a good many linemen who we can move around and be versatile there.”
• COLTS STABLE: Coahulla Creek is the only area team bringing back all of last season’s starters, and the roster and staff stability has led to a great spring, coach Jared Hamlin said.
Without any seniors on the roster, the Colts finished 8-2 in 2011 while playing a junior varsity schedule in the program’s first year. Hamlin’s Colts will have mostly juniors and sophomores ready to add another year of growth to build the program. Four players — center and tight end Storm Whitfield, lineman and fullback Cordarius Tarver, lineman Zack Tapp and defensive end and tight end Jordan Tant — will make up the program’s first senior class for the 2012 season.
“It’s the first time in my career that we’ve returned everybody,” said Hamlin, who has eight years of head coaching experience and came from Sebring (Fla.) High, where he compiled a 41-30 record.
Hamlin also said there haven’t been any changes to the coaching staff yet. As a result, there was no adjustment period needed from either the players or coaches this offseason.
“The coaches know who we are and know how we perform,” rising junior quarterback Hunter Williams said. “They know what buttons to push to make us work harder and know what buttons to push to get us to shut down.”
• COLLEGE CATS: A number of Dalton soon-to-be seniors are getting looks from current or soon-to-be NCAA Division I colleges.
A representative from the University of South Alabama was at Dalton’s practice Monday. Cats coach Matt Land said he was at the practice to see “three or four guys.”
“He’s here to see (tight end) Will Erwin and (defensive ends) Laighton Reese and Robert Hardaway,” Land said.
The Mobile, Ala., college is relatively new to football, having played its first season in 2009. The Jaguars will be a Division I school and member of the Sun Belt Conference for the 2013 season. The program started with 19 consecutive wins against a mix of prep school, junior college, NAIA and NCAA schools.
Land said Erwin also is being looked at by Southeastern Conference schools Tennessee and Ole Miss, and that he could get offers “in the next two weeks.” Hardaway said he has also been talking to other schools about the prospect of playing football at the next level.
“I’ve been talking to Harvard, some of those Ivy League schools, Furman, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State,” Hardaway said.
• OUT OF THE GYM: For Murray County, two of the spring’s biggest surprises came in the form of a couple of basketball players who ended up on the football field.
Murray County coach John Hammond said he knew that Jake Ice and Jagger Childers were both athletic, but worried about whether that would translate on the football field. However, after seeing the pair in action during the Indians’ spring scrimmage this past Friday, Hammond might be scouting for more players from the hardwood.
Ice stepped into the wingback position in the Indians’ flexbone offense, which is similar to Georgia Tech’s offensive scheme. Childers saw time through the spring in the defensive secondary, particularly at the free safety position.
“Jake was real effective at our A-back position in the slot and made some real good cuts and got up field well,” Hammond said. “Jagger impressed me in the secondary with some good hits and having a knack for being around the ball. They are both still learning, but they both showed out pretty well and were impressive.”
• TRENCH TIME: When North Murray hits the field today for its spring game, one area Mountaineers first-year head coach David Gann will look at especially close is the line of scrimmage.
Gann said before the first day of spring practice that there would be battles for all positions and no one’s spot was safe. Earlier this week, after seeing a full week of practice, he mentioned four players who will be seniors who have stepped up — Wesley Ross, Taylor Bryson and Jacob Ledford on the offensive line and Isaiah Jackson on the defensive line.
That still leaves five positions open on the offensive and defensive lines.
“We’ve got about 15 who are battling for those last five spots,” Gann said.
Gann said he believes in competition and that when players know they are a spot away from losing their job, it results in higher energy. He is looking for this energy during tonight’s game, when anyone can have a big performance and break away for the lead in getting a starting job.
“If a kid doesn’t perform today then we’re moving them back to the second team and let them re-earn their spot,” Gann said.
• BACK IN ACTION: Northwest’s Bruins have welcomed back a quarterback who is glad to return to the field after recovering from a season-ending injury in 2011.
Silas Ledford tore his ACL in summer workouts last year and had to sit out all of his junior season after undergoing surgery and rehabilitation.
“I wish it had never happened, but I think it helped him mentally be prepared for this next year,” coach Josh Robinson said. “He’s just now playing football for the first time (since the injury). I think it started out slower in the spring than what it is today.”
Bruins offensive coordinator Shay White doesn’t see any residual problems with Ledford’s knee, although coaches are limiting physical contact with Ledford in an effort to ease him back in without risking another injury. With Colter Creswell and Matt Allen graduating, Ledford is slated to be the starting quarterback in 2012.
“He was real mad at me because I put him in a green jersey and wouldn’t let anyone hit him,” Robinson said. “We don’t have any contact with him because we want him to have that full year, and he won’t have any contact until closer to the season.”
• WAIT AND SEE: Southeast has welcomed back one of its own with the return of Damian Manning, but it is unclear whether he will be fully back in the fold.
Manning, who played at Southeast as a feshman, enrolled at Coahulla Creek last year when Whitfield County Schools had open enrollment for the first-year high school. However, he has since transferred back to Southeast. He is competing at quarterback, but first-year Raiders coach Sean Gray said he didn’t know what the final outcome of Manning’s eligibility would be at this point.
“He’s got an eligibility question that we will have to figure out,” Gray said.
Coahulla Creek didn’t play varsity football last year, but the sports played is rarely a concern for the GHSA when it comes to eligibility. Manning established his eligibility at Coahulla Creek, and unless he has made a “bona fide move,” it’s likely that Manning will be ineligible for a year.
According to the GHSA Constitution and By-Laws, when a new school is opened with open enrollment and the school system sets a deadline to make a decision of attending the new school or the previous one, “decisions exercised at the deadline date are binding. Subsequent changes render the student to be a migrant student with the one-year period of ineligibility.”
Spring games offer one more glance
Whether 98 days is a long time probably depends on whom you’re asking.
- North Murray High School Mountaineers
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The Georgia Rampage return that idea for another season, and fans can hop on board now.
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