The third annual Forsyth Sports Media Day taught us quite a bit about seven of the county’s football programs. And at the same time, it taught us that there are certain things that will remain unknown until the pads start popping on Friday night. Here are five questions that are still unanswered heading into August, when the season finally starts.
Who will contribute on West’s offense?
Most of the questions surrounding West Forsyth center on the Wolverines’ offense. West is replacing a quarterback, a tailback, a pass-catching tight end, a wide receiver and more; the majority of the Wolverines’ yards from last season walked off the stage at graduation.
West isn’t simply letting the backups step in. The Wolverines have moved receiver Stephon Bland to tailback, offensive lineman Derek Hughes to fullback, tailback Saxby Waxer to slot receiver, and defensive end Mikhari Sibblis to tight end. (He’ll still play plenty on defense, though.) Blake Whitfield is set to be the quarterback for the Wolverines’ opener, but head coach Shawn Cahill made it clear that he isn’t set in stone the way that Zach Burns was last year. Casey Cowart is set to get reps under center, as well as at receiver.
“They’re both quality,” Cahill said. “Blake is just a little bit ahead.”
And as far as the task of replacing the production of current Vanderbilt tight end Ben Bresnahan, Cahill made it clear that it’s not a task for just one player, even with returning senior tight end Garrett Woodall committed to Army.
“We’re not going to replace Ben with just one kid,” Cahill said. “We’re not going to put all that on Garrett. We think we have three or four kids that can make plays, and those four kids, we hope, can kind of equal the Bresnahan production that we had a year ago.”
The Wolverines are going to score points, but who – and where – they get them will be one of the more compelling questions this fall.
How has Drew Morris changed since 2016, and how will he compare to his brother?
South Forsyth’s Drew Morris is one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the county heading into this fall – not a huge accomplishment, given how many new signal-callers there will be – but he didn’t get there in a liner manner. Morris got his starts two seasons ago as a sophomore, when both Davis Shanley and Cal Morris, his brother, went down with injuries. When Cal won the starting job last season, Drew was pushed to receiver/tight end.
It’s a worthy question now to wonder how Morris’ performance now will compare to what he did in 2016, when he completed 37 of 57 pass attempts and rushed 37 times for 161 yards. War Eagles head coach Jeff Arnette suggested that he’ll fit a similar dual-threat mold as his brother, but Arnette and Drew Morris himself have also suggested that Drew is a bit physical and with less straight-line speed than Cal.
However, recent observation and performance has cast doubt on that, too.
“He really looked a step faster to us the last few weeks,” Arnette said of Morris. “And it’s funny: The very next day, he goes to a camp and gets clocked at a 4.59 (in the 40).”
Can North’s defense take a much-needed step forward?
North Forsyth has some of the most experienced defensive players in the county: Honus Wagner typically lines up as strong safety, and he easily transitions between the second and third levels of the defense. This fall is set to be his third straight as a starter for the Raiders. The same goes for Jon Fleming at cornerback.
But that’s it, as far as returning starters go, a clear contrast from glut of proven talent the Raiders bring back on offense. Head coach Robert Craft points to program-wide markers as a sign of progress in that area: The Raiders continue to improve in size and strength in the third year of Craft’s tenure, and that strength in numbers will make up for lack in familiar names on defense.
“We feel like we probably have more depth than we’ve had in the past couple of years, with the opportunity to rotate more guys there,” Craft said.
The Raiders mentioned hosting a playoff game as one of the next benchmarks in their turnaround. Continued progress on offense will help towards that goal, the other side of the ball also has to show up to reach those heights.
Will the Rooney effect translate to Central?
David Rooney and Forsyth Central head coach Frank Hepler go way back. Hepler watched Rooney when he was playing at Miramar High School in the Miami area, and then the two later got to know each other when Hepler was coaching at Plantation High School. When Hepler got the opportunity to start the program at West Forsyth, he brought Rooney up to be the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator.
When Hepler started at Central three years ago, after a few years back in Florida and a year at Discovery High School in Gwinnett County, he tried unsuccessfully to get Rooney to join the Bulldogs. But when West decided to bring on Bill Ballard as defensive coordinator, Hepler got the chance to get Rooney back.
Rooney became one of the most respected and well-liked assistants in the county during his time at West, and now he can help out a Central defense that has considerable talent, especially on the lower levels with Jackson Leak and Dalton Edmunds. He’s set to bring a “multiple” look to the Bulldogs, working in a 3-4 formation but with plenty of flexibility between levels. And Central’s players can already tell where Rooney’s stellar reputation comes from.
“He really tries hard to form relationships with the players he’s around,” Central safety Dalton Edmunds said. “And at the same time, he’ll turn around and push you harder and harder to get better. He’s just a really good all-around coach in that aspect.”
What is Denmark’s ceiling this year?
The current situation at Denmark reminds Danes head coach Terry Crowder of one of his past gigs. In 2009, Crowder was leading Chattahoochee, one of the smallest schools by enrollment in Class 5A. Denmark currently fits well in Class 4A in terms of enrollment, but the Danes don’t have any seniors.
The next season, the Cougars dropped down to Class 4A, where they were one of the bigger schools, and proceeded to go 15-0 and win a state championship. In 2019, Denmark will have seniors, and they’ll also be one of the biggest schools in Class 4A. That informs how Crowder and his staff look at the program’s expectations: The second year is when it’s really on.
That’s not to say this season is a wash. In the Danes’ first coaches’ meeting, Crowder asked his staff to write down what they thought the team’s record this year would be. Many of the projections were modest, a reflection of the team’s newness and youth, but Crowder isn’t going to coach with those in mind.
“My thing was, ‘Who do you expect to beat us?’” Crowder said. “…I’m going to coach to win a state championship this year. That’s what I’m going to coach to do every day, so I expect us to go 10-0. I expect us to make a run, and that’s the only way I know how to coach and how to approach it. That’s what I’m going to sell these kids on.”