July 13, 2014

Tournament notebook: Position battles take shape in offseason

Christian Heritage School’s football team — particularly on offense — looks a lot different from last season.

One fresh sight is seeing a battle for the Lions’ quarterback position.

Tyson Cooper and Wesley Hagan are the candidates being considered by Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag. Both were on the field Saturday for The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship as it started with pool play Saturday at four sites in Dalton, including Christian Heritage. Neither Cooper nor Hagan started a varsity game last season, when Trevor Brown dominated that role — it was his third year starting — and had four fellow seniors at playmaking spots in the offense.

Cooper, a rising junior, started at free safety as a freshman and added running back to his varsity duties as a sophomore.

“He’s just an athlete,” Poag said. “He doesn’t go down with the first tackle.”

Poag said Hagan, who will be a sophomore in just a few weeks, is more of a natural quarterback.

While the actual preseason camps haven’t started for area high school football teams — the first day of conditioning allowed by the Georgia High School Association is July 25 — Poag called this “a competition” right now. He affirmed their performance during seven-on-seven tournaments like the one this weekend will affect who gets the start for the opening game on Aug. 23 at Landmark Christian.

Brown led the area in passing yards in 2013 with 2,629 and threw for 27 touchdowns. Christian Heritage finished 8-3 and reached the GHSA Class A public state playoffs for the first time.

Helping him was Nich Bartley, who caught 70 passes for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns to earn all-state recognition. Both Bartley and Brown made the All-Sub-Region 6A team and The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Team. Another wide receiver, Will Fischer, made the all-sub-region team and was an all-area honorable mention. He had 634 yards receiving and four touchdowns.

Austin Lowe, a bruising, tough-to-tackle fullback, had 629 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground and 263 yards and three more touchdowns through the air. Running back Jake Stokes, who signed a baseball scholarship with Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee, also was a notable contributor.

With all of them having graduated, whoever becomes the No. 1 quarterback will develop along with Christian Heritage’s new playmakers.

“We’re young,” Poag said. “We have a lot of sophomores. I told them, ‘We have to grow up quick.’ I want to see who will step up.”

This weekend is an early opportunity to do just that.

NO MOSS: While he wasn’t in town for the tournament, legendary NFL wide receiver Randy Moss’ new team was.

No, not a pro team. Moss is the associate head coach and works with the wide receivers for Victory Christian of Charlotte, N.C., which is at the Southeaster for the second straight summer.

His son, Thaddeus, plays on the team.

Having a legend like Moss — he has 15,292 receiving yards and 156 touchdowns through 14 seasons — should have obvious benefits for Victory Christian’s blossoming wide receivers.

“At first, when you think about it, you think ‘Wow, we have Randy Moss as a coach,” senior wide receiver Joshua Allen said. “Once he gets there, it’s just like having another coach. He knows a lot of the game and is teaching us a lot of stuff we can use. He isn’t just there to be there. He’s there to help the kids.”

FAMILIAR STORY: Two years ago, Dalton played an emotional game to begin the 2012 season against Ringgold, which celebrated its recovery from the devastating April 2011 tornado with its first home football game since that tragedy.

Sacred Heart-Griffin, from Springfield, Ill. — which made one of the lengthiest trips among this year’s tournament competitors — can relate.

In the Illinois High School Association Class 5A state semifinals, Sacred Heart played Nov. 23 against Washington, which six days earlier was devastated by an EF-4 tornado that killed one person. The tornado happened one day after Washington won in the quarterfinals.

Sacred Heart, located two hours from Washington, did all it could to help with the game looming.

“We raised money for them,” Sacred Heart coach Ken Leonard said. “We sent buses from Springfield to Washington and back so people could come to the game.”

Sacred Heart won 44-14 and one week later won the state title.

SAFETY FIRST: Atlanta’s Pace Academy, is using a new soft-shell helmet cover this weekend at the Southeastern.

While seven-on-seven play doesn’t include tackling, there still is a danger for helmet-to-helmet collisions. Players still wear helmets.

According to a release sent to The Daily Citizen noting Pace Academy as a participant, the Guardian Cap is scientifically proven to diminish the impact of hits up to 33 percent. The release states more than 23,000 players at the youth, high school and college level — including 25 high school teams in Georgia — are wearing the caps.

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