The fourth annual Forsyth Sports Media Day was the biggest such event to date, with a bigger space and a fan fest to match. Just like in past years, though, the county’s football coaches and players talked about the upcoming season, their expectations, and looked back on the previous seasons.
Here are seven things that stood out during Wednesday’s event.
Pulling it back
West Forsyth’s schedule is a mirror of last year’s, and once again, it’s a buzzsaw, including Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.) and McCallie (Tenn.), some of the best high school squads in the nation. The Wolverines went 1-4 to start the 2018 season, but those early games arguably prepared them for their late-season push to a second-place Region 5-7A finish.
Still, that doesn’t mean that head coach Shawn Cahill has no regrets in how he prepared his team for those games. When asked about the injuries his team had and what, if anything, he could do to help prevent them, he recalled conversations he’s had with his coaches about how they prepared in the summer. This year, the Wolverines have altered their practice routine to help players retain their energy.
“I didn’t think I did a very good job last year of taking care of our kids in the early preseason, and I noticed it when we got to Peachtree Ridge,” Cahill said. “Even though we won the game, we were really tired. We went through the summer knowing that we were going to have this schedule in front of us… We were pushing hard with our kids to get them to the level of who we were going to play.”
Learning to bite
With two years under his belt, Longhorns quarterback Peyton Rich sat on the Media Day stage as one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the county this year. It wasn’t always that way, though – in fact, head coach Louis Daniel recalled a reluctance to start Rich during his sophomore year, a scenario that’s never ideal for any team.
“If you put somebody in a situation when they’re too young, you might teach them not to bite, so to speak,” Daniel said. “I want to protect him. We’re making decisions throughout the offseason with the athlete’s best interests at heart. A lot of times as a sophomore, their best interest is their future, and you don’t want to put them in harm’s way.”
Two years later, Daniel says he’s been pleased by what he’s seen from his signal caller heading into his senior year, praising his mobility in particular. Lambert is hoping he can keep the turnovers at a minimum after throwing 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year.
“I probably was very nervous most of the games (in my sophomore year),” Rich said. “I probably thought I couldn’t make most of the throws but now that I’m older, I feel like I’m much more experienced."
Nicky Dalmolin will be one of North’s biggest pieces this
year, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. With the kind of talent
that he is, he’s received the offers and interest that other senior receivers have gotten,
but his recruitment has been much different than most. Dalmolin committed to Duke early in his recruiting process,
and has been dead-set on that school, having no interest in the suspense or the
spectacle of college recruiting commonly seen on social media. That team-first
mindset is something of which North head coach Robert Craft expressed his vocal appreciation.
“You see guys and so often it’s about me in the recruitment process and you kind of string it out,” Craft said. “That’s what I love about him. He found a place and he’s focused on finishing his high school career great.”
As the only returner in North’s new-look offense, Craft also shed some light on exactly how he’ll be utilized – as Dalmolin did at times last year, he’ll see time at running back, tight end, in the slot and outside.
Fixed on week six
When Denmark head coach Terry Crowder was asked about his team’s critical fall break loss to West Hall last year, his previously silent dog Denny let out a fitting bark that echoed across the room. It’s a night that the Danes don’t look back on fondly.
Playing during fall break is never easy for any team, and losing that game last year ultimately cost Denmark a playoff spot in their inaugural season. Crowder didn’t mince words when looking back at that performance, and with expectations now sky-high for the Danes, an improvement there is paramount.
“We played terrible during that game, so as a team goal, we (decided) that we were going to play better during that week, and we’re going to have a real different plan on how we attack that week. That is our first region game and that put us behind the eight ball last year, so we’ve got to play better in that game."
Next men up
Central is coming off its best season in almost 20 years, but the Bulldogs did so with a number of injuries at some important positions. The defense will get a major boost with Mitch Weber returning from a season-long injury, but there will also be some new names looking to fill some holes with some departures from last season.
Hepler pointed out that Branden Redecker will return to join Weber at linebacker, and that Matt Johnson and Isaac Brown will be moving up from linebacker to help shore up the defensive line. Hepler sees defensive tackle Nick Cribbs as having a chance to be one of the highest-rated linemen to ever come through Central.
“There’ll be some names like that that you’ll see step up on the defensive side that maybe you didn’t see before,” Hepler said. “We’re pretty excited about some of those names that you’ll hear.”
Finding the formula
One of the themes of the day was how fragile a season’s success can be, and as the head coach presiding over the county’s longest active playoff streak, South coach Jeff Arnette certainly had a good perspective on that topic. Not having injuries like South had last year was obviously one of the factors, but he also pointed to the difficulty of competing in Class 7A and having the right kind of team that can take the grind of a late-season run.
“There is no easy first round game,” Arentte said. “When we made the run and won the region in 2015, our first game was Norcross. Every game in 7A is incredible. When I was coaching 3A, 4A stuff, a lot of times if you’re a first seed, you felt good about it. You don’t have those.
“There’s no perfect formula to know if you’re going to win a region or go on a deep run in the playoffs… There’s a lot of factors.”
Wet behind the ears
Like they have in past years and like most 1A teams do, the Paladins are fighting a depth issue, with just around 30 players rostered for this year. Their offense will also be going through a lot of changes, with Pinecrest looking to replace quarterback Ryan Difazio and running back Patrick Sullivan, two of the Paladins’ best players from last year.
Tony Novo will be taking the reins at tailback, and at quarterback, Bryce Balthaser will start. Both of them aren’t the most experienced, with Novo not receiving many snaps last year and Balthaser previously only playing JV. Still, Mathis has worked to keep his team optimistic, and believes his offense can thrive in the right environment.
“(Balthaser is) really, really, really green at quarterback so we’re going to do some things differently to make sure he’s successful,” Mathis said. “That’s one thing you learn from playing around all different levels and being around different coaches. You can have the best system out there, but if you don’t have the players to run that system, you’re not going to be successful.”