This year's Forsyth Sports Media Day brought the county's
football programs to survey the upcoming season. The players and coaches
present told us some things that we already knew, like that they were excited
for the season, that they had a lot of talent coming in, that they had a lot of
holes to fill.
There would be no point to the event, though, if it couldn't teach us new things about these programs and shed light on issues we might not have known about.
These are five things that we learned on Wednesday.
West can’t hide its excitement at the prospect of facing Adam Clack and Milton
West Forsyth has a new head coach this year, and their old one isn’t too far away. Adam Clack’s new position is an easy drive down state route 400 at Milton High School, and the Eagles are still part of Class 5-7A with the rest of Forsyth County’s public schools.
The Wolverines face Milton on Oct. 6 this year at home, and they can’t hide their excitement for the occasion. Cornerback Cade Vela and receiver/kicker Bryce Jones were grinning before even getting a chance to address the question, and while Vela tried to keep it brief – “Most definitely looking forward to it,” he said – the senior was clearly playing coy.
Jones, who played for Clack for three years to Vela’s one, went into more detail with his thoughts.
“We know him, and that’s one of our region games, so of course that was already a big one,” Jones said. “And then with him and a lot of the other coaches over there now, we’re really excited to get them over at West and really put on a show. We’re really excited for it.”
Vela completed the thought.
“Just like any other game,” he said, but the laughter from the audience told the real story.
The new guys know that they have it tough early on
Before the Wolverines get to the Milton game, though, they’ll have to make it through a tricky non-region schedule against powers like Woodstock, Hillgrove and Newnan, with the latter two games being on the road.
Those games weren’t Cahill’s idea – he inherited them from Clack. He sees the opportunity inherent, though, and brought up his college alma mater, which has made its name by knocking off bigger names.
“Is it a first-year coach’s dream to walk into a schedule like that and have to go to Hillgrove and Newnan and open with Woodstock, with a whole bunch of seniors back?” Cahill said. “No, it’s not, but I’ve always taken that mentality, and that’s from playing at North Dakota State, (that) we’ll play anybody anywhere at any time. So I don’t mind it.”
And in his mind, a productive non-region loss is better than a meaningless non-region win.
“I’d rather go play somebody good and find out where we’re weak at and fix it than play some lesser opponents and win and not find out what we have wrong until it’s too late,” Cahill said.
First-year Pinecrest Academy head coach Terance Mathis is looking at an even bigger challenge, with his Class 1A school facing 7A opponents South Forsyth and Discovery on the road.
“I wonder who scheduled that game,” Mathis mused.
That would be former Paladins head coach Todd Winter, and scheduling those matchups does have some utility, with games against those bigger opponents aiding Pinecrest’s potential playoff seed. Mathis isn’t satisfied with that reasoning, though.
“(The) point system, this and that, it’s good, but you know that, but I’m not coaching these boys to go out and worry about a point system,” Mathis said. “…We don’t take on football games to lose. How am I going to go in first week of the season and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to lose this one, but give it your best.’ What coach tells their player that they’re going to lose a football game? I know every week we want to win a football game, and that’s what we are.”
Both Cahill and Mathis recognized this: Right now, barring bizarre circumstances, the schedule is set. They have to play the games.
“Should we be playing this game? Maybe not, but it’s on the schedule,” Mathis said. “So our job is to go out there, play and try to win a football game.
South likes their QB bros
At the end of last season, South was forced to use third-string quarterback Drew Morris when starter Davis Shanley went down with an injury, and it worked out quite well: the War Eagles went 2-1 in Morris’ three starts, their only loss coming against Parkview in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.
But Morris would not have been thrust into action if his older brother, Cal, had not also been injured at the time Shanley went down. Now, South feels it’s stronger at the most important position going into the season for having endured the injury travails a year ago.
Despite his inexperience in varsity competition, Cal sounds like he’s the expected starter, and Drew is a much more capable back-up after last season. Arnette sounds confident in what the team will get out of the quarterback position.
“I think people are going to be shocked when they see what Cal can do,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said.
And Arnette doesn’t envy offensive coordinator Troy Morris – Cal and Drew’s dad.
“I can’t imagine if my brother and I had been fighting for the same position,” Arnette said. “Somebody would’ve probably died.”
Central not sugarcoating 2016’s struggles
The Bulldogs were humming right along at the start of last season, going 3-0 and then 3-1 into the start of region play.
But then Central went 0-5 in Region 5-7A, and it wasn’t pretty: the Bulldogs lost those games by a combined 194-22, and they didn’t score a point in their last three games.
And second-year head coach Frank Hepler isn’t glossing over just how much of a transition last season was for the Bulldogs.
“We talk about it all the time in practice – sometimes you’ve got to get knocked down to get back up. We got knocked down (last season), and we got knocked down big-time,” Hepler said.
Hepler lauded the team’s work during the offseason in the weight room and at other team activities. He noted that during all of those, last season’s struggles provided an extra dose of motivation.
“That’s been our little chip on our shoulder all offseason, how we have to learn from that and realize what good football is,” Hepler said.
Gabriel will add new dimension for Lambert at QB
Lambert enjoyed its most accomplished season in school history a year ago, winning its first region title and state playoff game in school history, and it did so with the best offense the program has ever seen, one that averaged a school-best 31.0 points a game. Senior quarterback Richie Kenney had a lot to do with that, but he’s gone, graduated and now playing at Cornell University.
The Longhorns are asking rising senior Bobby Gabriel to replace Kenney. Gabriel is no stranger to the position. Two seasons ago, Gabriel complimented Kenney’s pocket-passer style with his running ability, and he often replaced Kenney is certain situations to flummox defenses.
So Lambert sounds confident Gabriel can step in at quarterback and help them defend last season’s region championship. He’ll just do it his own way.
“The most important thing about him is he’s athletic,” Lambert senior Marcus Chatelain said. “It opens up a lot more things we can do on offense with a quarterback that can run the ball like a running back and throw the ball 50 yards down the field.”