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SPRING FOOTBALL: 5 things we learned
FCN 5THINGS 061413 web
North Forsyth first-year football coach Jason Galt is bringing an unique offense to the Raiders in hopes reinvigorating the program. - photo by Photo by Brian Paglia Forsyth County News

1. Quarterback battles are everywhere

Pinecrest Academy, South Forsyth and West Forsyth are all searching for a quarterback.

The Paladins must replace Jimmy Strom, who set the school’s single game record for most rushing yards in a game (201), touchdowns in a game (5) and most touchdowns in a season (22). Pinecrest has narrowed the job to rising sophomore Jake Mangan and rising freshman Ryan McCarthy.

West has to find a successor for A.J. Erdely, who earned All-County Offensive Player of the Year honors last season. Rising senior John Conway and rising junior Hampton McConnell haven’t created enough separation for coach Frank Hepler to name a starter.

South will wait to name a starter, but rising senior Nick Shepherd and rising junior Matt White are the top candidates, while rising sophomore Austin Harvey is still in the mix.

Lambert is working in first-year starter Hayden McLeod.

2. There’s a lot of talent to replace in Forsyth

West may have lost the most talent of any Forsyth County school.

Erdely, Jake Wieczorek, Tanner Bridges and Ty Anderson — the starting quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end — are all gone. Those four players racked up a combined 6,741 yards and 65 touchdowns for the Wolverines, who won Region 6-AAAAAA and boasted a 10-2 record.

Lambert will be without quarterback Brock Maxwell, running back Daniel Myers and linebacker Russell Monyette, while South will miss quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey, athlete Eddie Mirynowski and lineman Michael Scullin.

Pinecrest has to replace the powerful duo of quarterback Jimmy Strom and fullback John Paul Metz. The two combined for 1,684 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.

North Forsyth loses key defensive players in lineman Madison Hoke and linebacker Eric Fitzgerald. Hoke tallied 61 tackles and Fitzgerald added 85 with two forced fumbles.

3. But there’s plenty of exciting talent returning

This is where Forsyth Central really shines. The Bulldogs return their entire offensive backfield and a host of players on defense.

Rising senior quarterback Michael Branigan had 1,778 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Rising senior receiver Jeremiah Jones hauled in 17 catches for 351 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 21 yards per catch.

West returns rising senior center Andrew Marshall, arguably the area’s top recruit, and defensive lineman Brett Anderson, who had 75 tackles and six sacks last season.

Lambert rising senior defensive lineman Jake Chickowski, rising senior outside linebacker Jordyn Jean-Felix and rising senior cornerback Brandon Miller headline a stout defensive returning group. The Longhorns offense will feature Auburn-commit and tight end Chris Laye.

The Raiders will lean on rising senior defensive back Luke Slaton, who accumulated 66 tackles and two forced fumbles.

4. New coaches bring fresh approaches

New head coaches Shane Williamson and Jason Galt face interesting rebuilding projects. Williamson takes over a Forsyth Central program that hasn’t had a winning season 2001. Galt takes over a North Forsyth program that’s had just one winning season since 2005.

Both are taking intriguing approaches to their respective challenges.

Central went just 2-8 last season, so Williamson is ditching the Wing-T offense in favor of the spread.

North went 3-7 last season, so Raiders athletic director Nathan Turner said they’re done throwing the football and hired Galt who specializes in the Double Wing, an unique run-heavy offense rarely seen in Georgia.

Surely both expect immediate results. Fan bases probably will too. What helps both coaches is players should be able to learn their respective new offenses quickly. The spread is so ubiquitous in football that players should be familiar with its concepts, while some North players have said they’re excited at how soon they’ve learned the Double Wing.

5. Optimism abounds

Listen to the rhetoric of spring.

Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell: "[The program is] enthusiastic. There’s great unity."

North Forysth head coach Jason Galt: "I’m very optimistic about our chances in this region. I think there are definitely some good teams, but I think we can compete."

"I truly believe we’re going to win a state title here," Pinecrest Academy coach Todd Winter said.

Yes, high school football spring practice is to football what spring training is to baseball -- when optimism abounds at the possibility of what fall might bring.

Even in the face of some daunting tasks – West Forsyth replacing A.J. Erdely and Mohamed Camara, Pinecrest replacing Jimmy Strom, Forsyth Central coach Shane Williamson turning the Bulldogs 180 degrees on offense to the spread – Forsyth County coaches were unflinching in their belief that progress was made this spring.

We’ll see what that produces come August.