Macon East Academy Knights – Football

 

   The Macon East Academy basketball and baseball teams won state championships last year. The football team, meanwhile, suffered its fourth consecutive losing season.

“There is a lot of pressure on the seniors this year since most of us have been playing since pee-wee,” senior Colin Harris said. “It’s our last year and we have the chance to be really good so we don’t want to screw it up. We just have to come together as a team and play.”

Harris is one of several returning players who are joined by an influx of newcomers that will give the Knights its deepest team since the last team with a winning season (2012) and its largest team since 2009 or 2010.

“The best thing this summer is (an increase in) numbers,” Macon East coach Glynn Lott said. “We got 10 transfers from different schools for different reasons, we’ve got five or six kids that were in school last year that are playing. Having a lot of players makes you a better coach, not just because they’re good players, you can have good discipline. Last year, some Sundays we were discussing how we were going to survive.”

QB Tucker Nevin hands off to RB Colin Harris in one of the first summer workouts for the Knights

Now, he’s talking about how many players might play on just one side of the ball, a remarkable turnaround from a year ago. Harris is typical of the 2016 Knights, starting his season at quarterback and moving at times to tailback, then to slot receiver.

“He’s got a lot of roles on our team,” Lott said. “He’s a vital part of our offense. He’s got great hands, he can run.”

Harris has played quarterback, splitting time with Park Crossing transfer Tucker Neven; tailback, splitting time with Mike Murry and Dustin Jones; and at slot receiver.

“I always wanted to be at quarterback or running back, but I guess wherever they put me is fine with me,” Harris said. “I’ve always had an impact at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, so it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ll make plays wherever they put me.”

Neven, Lott added, has been a welcome addition to provide some depth at the position.

“You get the same thing every day,” Lott said. “You tell him once, you don’t have to tell him again. It’s a joy to have somebody who understands the game. He keeps them in the game with his calmness but at the same time he’s very encouraging.”

The addition of several transfers as well as basketball players-turned-receivers Logan Goree and Kyle Edwards gives the Macon East offense “lots of weapons,” Lott noted.

Macon East coach Glynn Lott is happy to see an increase in the number of players for 2017

“You’re not going to be able to focus on one guy,” he said. “I’ve always been a running guy. This year, our goal will be 50-50 and with the guys we brought in we can throw it around enough to keep it where we can hand it to Mike (Murry) or Colin (Harris) and they won’t be featured. You’ve got Logan (Goree) out there (at wide receiver) at 6-foot-5, if you want to play him one-on-one, he’s going to hurt you.”

Harris agreed.

“It’s going to be a mix between running and passing,” he said. “Me and Tucker can throw the ball but we have good running backs like Mike (Murry) and Dustin (Jones) and Coleby Jordan and our line is huge this year. It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun this year.”

Defensively, the key will be putting the right talent in the right places, Lott added.

“We’ve got a lot of players we’ve got to look at,” he said. “Kyle looks good at safety but we’ve never seen him tackle. On the defensive line, we’ve got Coleby Jordan who’s a 10th grader who didn’t come out last year, different ones we’ve just never seen.”

The increase of larger linemen allows the Knights to build some depth in the line but it’s likely that five or six players will play on both sides of the ball early in the year. And while both players and coaches are happy with the addition of several key players who didn’t play last year, the return of Murry from a preseason scrimmage injury in 2016 means the Knights are likely to be a little conservative early.

“We challenged them to get better every day,” Lott said. “If we do that, we’ll be a better football team. We do have some young kids … and they’ve got a long way to go. Our biggest concern is we need success early to keep that mindset.”

After a spring of success from the basketball and baseball teams, the Knights had one of their best summers in recent years during seven-on-seven drills. Lott wants to keep the momentum rolling.

“Honestly, I think we can have a winning season and maybe make it to Troy (for the state finals),” Goree said. “That’s if we all pitch in and actually play as a team.”

 

2017 Roster

1 Zack Peacock

2 Kyle Edwards

3 Dustin Jones

4 Ethan Honaker

5 Brock Taunton

9 Tucker Neven

10 Colin Harris

14 Dawson Bell

15 Jake Wyrosdick

16 Nate Center

17 Jack Dillon Hewitt

19 Neil Boone

20 Wes Pugh

22 Mike Murry

24 JC Ceman

25 Hunter Coston

26 Parker Whittle

27 Jackson Vinson

30 Tanner Moore

33 Tyler Watson

34 Eric Lawson

35 Shelton Lee

44 Coleby Jordan

54 Dawson Strickland

55 Nick Fitzgerald

61 Ben Main

64 Jonathan Mathis

65 Tyler Hodges

66 KC House

68 Will Heary

74 Chandler Barker

75 Kareem Benson

77 Travis Moody

79 Connor Higbe

80 Jake Gracey

81 Aidan Steyer

88 Logan Goree

 

Montgomery Catholic Knights – Football

 

   Catholic finished the 2016 season still in search of its first playoff win since 1989, but plenty of lessons were learned in the wake of a third-place finish in the region and a first-round loss in the playoffs.

“We’ve got to take one game at a time and not make games bigger than they are,” said third-year coach Aubrey Blackwell, who was making his first trip to the playoffs as a head coach. “I think we made the St. James game too big last year. That’s my fault. We emphasized it a bunch in the offseason. We did the same thing with Thomasville. We talked about playing well the first week (in the playoffs) instead of just staying on a consistent role. The biggest thing I’ve learned as a head coach is trying to develop the consistency each week, no matter who you’re playing, have a set of standards and a process.”

The Knights had an eye-opening season last year, but there are   painful reminders of just how close they came to something more. The 35-7 loss to St. James early in the year, as Blackwell pointed out, was a lesson in not getting your team too hyped for a game. Catholic self destructed while St. James went about its business and went on to win a region title.

A 34-33 loss to Dale County cost the Knights a home playoff berth as the region runner up and that proved huge when Catholic lost 20-6 in the first round at Thomasville.

Knights coach Aubrey Blackwell has turned the Catholic program around in his first two years at the helm

“We’ve really had a chip on our shoulder (since then),” Blackwell said. “We just really didn’t play well, didn’t give our best game. We felt like we should’ve won that game, but just did not make the plays. We made too many mistakes.”

While there is plenty returning, there are questions that need to be answered as fall camp wraps up. Five starters return on the offense, but only one (center Garrett

McGinn) is on the offensive line.

“The biggest question for us is how are we going to replace Brian Anderson, Saxton Bibbens, David Poole?” Blackwell asked. “We’ve got a good core of seniors who have stepped in and some young kids that had great junior varsity seasons last year that are going to be up front on the offensive line.”

The coaching staff will undergo a few changes as well. Associate head coach Mike Watts took the job as offensive coordinator at Smiths Station, Fred Turner is devoting time to private business and veteran coach Jim Adams elected to retire. In their place are three young coaches: Huntingdon graduate Heath McCray, former Huntingdon receiver Bobby Dunlap and former Huntingdon All-American Dennis Barnett.

The other offensive starters are quarterback Hunter Ferrall, tailback Tyler Price and receivers

Kamryn Jackson and Braxton Rogers. Ferrall’s development is crucial to the Knights’ offensive strategy this fall.

Hunter Ferrall will start for Catholic at Quarterback for the second consecutive year

“The biggest thing is him protecting the ball,” Blackwell said. “And that’s what he has done well this summer and so far in camp. He knows where his reads are, the second thing is he’s figuring out how to throw the ball away or tuck it down and run. And if somebody’s on the wrong page, he can get them there (to the right place). Now he knows the offense. Even if a guard looks at him and says, ‘What do I do here,’ he knows the blocking rules on that.”

The return of Ferrall, Price and the receivers along with 10 returning starters on defense give the Knights confidence heading into the 2017 season.

“When times get tough in practice, we just look back at games like Dale County and St. James and we think it’s just the little mistakes we made that cost us the game and we need to really focus on the little things and that can push us to be a great team,” senior Luke Craig said. “It was a new experience for us. Hopefully, if we go to the playoffs this year, we can win our first game, our second game and go all the way.”

The defense utilized 16 different players as starters at some point in 2016, providing plenty of experience on that side of the ball.

“They are a really close group,” Blackwell said. “Five of those kids are three-year starters, starting since the ninth grade and now going into their fourth year of starting.”

Even if they’re improved, Blackwell pointed out, it might not lead to a better record.

“Us, Dale County, St. James, Bullock County and ACA all have 18-plus seniors and 15 or more starters returning,” he said, “so the region’s going to be better.”

Still, there’s plenty of optimism in the Catholic camp. Last year, the Knights beat Alabama Christian for only the second time since 1995 and beat Trinity for the first time since 1989, the year they went 11-3 under Jeff Clark and

beat Calera, Goshen and Alabama Christian before losing in the semifinals of the state playoffs.

“Mentally, we’re way stronger this year,” senior linebacker Parker Dennis said. “Our senior class this year has very good leadership. We know we’re good enough to get there. This year, our defense is the best we’ve ever had. We’ve got seven people on the team with D-I offers, we’ve got good offers. We have to keep pushing the whole game.”

In addition to keeping things consistent, Blackwell said he learned another lesson by insisting on not playing his best athletes on both sides of the ball, noting that “there were times where we should have gone ahead and played a couple of our better defensive players on offense especially in key situations.”

Lessons learned should translate to more success, the players believe.

“We’re a lot quicker this year,” Craig said. “We lost a couple of real good athletes in David Poole and Trey Downs but we’ve gotten a lot faster, our defense has gotten better, we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve gotten stronger. We’re going to come out and win.”

 

2017 Roster

1   Greg Ellis

2   Tyler Price

3   B.J. Barker

4   Parker Dennis

5   Braxton Rogers

6   Drew Smith

7   Daryl Gibson

8   William Hooper

9   Charlie Ryan

10  Trey Wilkinson

11  Ryne Herbek

12  Ivann Garcia

13  Cary Dean

14  Kamryn Jackson

15  Steven Robinson

16  Hunter Ferrall

17  Derrick Parker

18  Daniel Reeves

19  Cephus Cleveland

20  Damaiyas Freeman

21  Nathan Downes

22  Luke Whetstone

23  DJ Carter

25  Jacob Flowers

26  Myles Butler

27  Zach Pappanastas

28  Mark Austin

29  Tim Brannon

30  Sean Moore

31  Jalen Fountain

32  Razz Chandler

34  Jack Burt

35  Josh Kyle

36  Rhys Holifield

37  Michael Hodges

38  Dean Johnson

40  John Register

41  JR Luke Voorhies

42  JR Austin Hankins

44  FR Will Voorhies

45  Christian Friday

46  Jack Allen

48  Archie Green

50  Marcello Villena

51  Aaron Hall

52  Thomas McLaughlin

53  CJ Owens

54  Dylan Riley

55  CJ Person

56  Luke Craig

57  Marcus Dees

58  Tate Holifield

59  Cred Thomas

64  Garrett Rentfro

65  Riley Swain

66  Caleb Hopson

67  Kade Hampton

68  Maverick Friday

70  Garrett McGinn

71  Nelson Parrish

72  Cole Faucheux

73  Braxton Burdette

74  Nick Brown

75  William Heary

76  Carter Beesley

77  JaMichael Washington

78  Michael Mason

79  Eli Starrett

Saint James Trojans – Football

   St. James lost its most experienced offensive player last season in tailback Blake Underwood and return second-year starter Josh Garnett at quarterback so the Trojans should spread the ball around a little more this fall.

Well, maybe. Depends on whether you’re talking to a quarterback confident of his weapons on offense or a head coach who knows the identity of his football team.

“Last year, I knew I had two good running backs behind me so I just did everything that was asked of me the best I could,” senior quarterback Josh Garnett said. “This year, just having Tony (Amerson by himself) calls for us to open up the offense and I know I’m going to be called on a lot more this year than I was last year.

“I think we’ll be able to open it up a little more this year. It just depends on how well we can run the wing-T first. How we run the wing-T should open up how we run our offense the rest of the game.”

There’s the strategy. If you start with the wing-T first and it’s effective, why go to anything else?

Trojans coach Jimmy Perry expects a lot from returning starters

“We’re not going to change what we are,” St. James coach Jimmy Perry said. “We’re a running football team. We’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher for six straight years; in fact, six 1,000-yard rushers in five years. So we’re going to continue to try and run the football behind a senior-laden offensive line.”

The Trojans return nearly all of their offensive starters, losing Underwood and tight end Atchison Hubbard, so it’s easy to think the offensive production should increase with a veteran offensive line leading the way. Then there’s Garnett, whose role is certain to increase with another year of experience.

“I feel like I’ve become better as an overall leader,” Garnett said. “We had a pretty good season last year and it just helps when we all come together and we’re all like leaders at each position. All of the receivers are good – (T.R. (Tyler Roberson), Colin Duncan, Steven Sadie, Jackson Raybon — even Tony out of the backfield, he can get out in the open and when he gets the ball he can make any play he wants.”

Defensively, the Trojans have to replace inside linebacker Sterling Jones, but a year of maturity and more depth up front should lead to a better defense. Morgan Academy transfer Will Whiddon stepped into Jones’ position in the spring and is expected to fill that position.

“He’s going to be a good player for us,” Perry said. “Steven Yergensen, who had more tackles (last year) than Sterling, is back so we feel real good at the linebacker spot. Our secondary is older, wiser, stronger. We feel good about them and our defensive line returns just about everyone intact.

“We’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve had. We lost two football games last year because I did a poor job of developing depth at some positions so we’ve worked real hard at developing depth.”

Does that translate to a team that can improve on last year’s region title and loss to Tallassee in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs? St. James may be better, but so is everyone else.

Josh Garnett will be the signal caller for the Trojans once again

“I think the region is going to be real competitive,” Perry said. “Alabama Christian returns everybody, Catholic returns just about everybody plus a new influx of kids, so it’s going to be a challenge. I love it. That’s why you play is to compete. Everybody else is better? Good. That gives us a chance to be better.”

The Trojans play early road games against Capital City Conference rivals Montgomery Academy and Catholic and close out the schedule with four consecutive region games, including a road trip to Dale County, the 2016 region runner-up. With each of their region rivals returning most of their starters from a year ago, a trip to the playoffs isn’t a sure thing.

“We’ve looked at the region, the region is hard, it’s going to be a tough year this year,” Garnett said. “But we think if we can get through the region, we should be able to get through anything this year. The region is stacked and we just want to be at the top of it.”

To stay at the top, Garnett may have to be more productive this season. Last year, his job was to direct the offense and let Underwood and Amerson run the Trojans to another victory. This year, if the Trojans expect to be more productive, Garnett may have to produce some yards and some points with his arm.

“Returning starter, a senior,” Perry said. “Just as it says in Luke 12:48, to whom much is given much is required. He’s going to be given a lot and he’s going to required a lot. He’s gotten progressively better and the better he gets, the more things we can do and he can distribute the ball better.”

 

2017 Roster

1 Tyson Eley

2 Bennett Blankenship

3 Cole Formby

4 Shaw Woodson

5 Colin Duncan

6 Will Lee

8 Drew Fett

9 Steven Yergensen

10 Collier Dean

11 Jackson Raybon

12 TR Robertson

13 Jin Kim

14 Josh Garnett

16 Will Whiddon

17 TP Hammock

18 Alex Whisenhunt

19 Blake Harper

20 Manav Patel

21 Tony Amerson

22 Brock Woodham

23 Steven Sadie

25 Chandler Armagost

27 Andrew Sadie

28 Elliot Steinwinder

29 Will Wales

31 Jackson Hammock

34 Patrick Whetstone

35 Eric Parker

39 Corey Owens

40 Cole Armagost

42 Holt Harrison

45 Jan Wachowitz

50 Jake Prickett

51 Mac Johnson

52 Cade Crow

53 William Graves

54 Matt Prater

56 Frank Stallings

57 Mitchell Wilson

58 Cole Bender

60 Jack Green

61 Brunson Bachelor

62 Sam Materna

63 Houston Hamilton

64 Jack Materna

68 Tyler Beck

72  Bradley Woodham

73 Gage Parten

80 Cory Wright

87 Michael Shalayda

88 William Fritz

89 Alex Rountree