What other word could describe South Forsyth’s 2016 season other than whirlwind?
It started in the Metro PCS Corky Kell Classic, the first Forsyth County team to ever participate in the prestigious event that unofficially kicks off the high school football season.
It included wins and losses against top 10-ranked teams.
It included myriad injuries, most notably quarterback and Western Kentucky signee Davis Shanley, but also Shanley’s back-up.
But then it also included third-string sophomore quarterback Drew Morris guiding South down the stretch to wins against Forsyth Central and West Forsyth to earn a first-round Class 7A state playoff game at home and then nearly another one against traditional Gwinnett County power Parkview.
By the end of that whirlwind season, South was 7-4, not quite the follow-up to 2015’s milestone year, but still notable as the fourth straight winning season and third straight state playoff appearance for the War Eagles.
The injuries of 2016 will be particularly useful for this season, especially at quarterback.
Drew Morris, a junior, is now the most experienced of South’s quarterbacks after completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns in his three starts late last season after Shanley went down with injury. But Drew would not have been thrust into action if his older brother, Cal, a senior, had not also been injured with a broken collarbone at the time.
Cal is the expected starter, and head coach Jeff Arnette thinks “people are going to be shocked” at his ability despite a lack of varsity experience.
Regardless, Arnette is confident in what the team will get out of the quarterback position.
“There’s not many high schools that have two quarterbacks as good as we have,” Arnette said.
Either Cal or Drew will have plenty of help. Senior Ryan Pontrelli is one of the county’s top pass catchers after hauling in 60 passes for 775 yards and five touchdowns last season. Jaylen Pearson (25 rec., 379 yards, 5 TDs) was also a reliable wide out.
The wild card is sophomore Ze’Vian Capers, a 6-foot-4, 180-pounder who is already generating interest from major Division I college programs.
“He’s definitely one of the hardest working (players),” senior Jared Honey said. “He did a lot of camps in the offseason, and it showed out there this summer in 7-on-7s.”
Cal should also benefit from three offensive linemen with starting experience returning in seniors Jordan Nelson, Briggs Hutchseon and Jake Nitkowski, and from a more stable running game behind Honey, who is moving from fullback to tailback after rushing for 413 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries last season. Arnette wants to get Honey the ball more this season, if only for the mental edge his physical style provides the team.
“I think the way he runs brings an attitude to our offense, and we just want more of that,” Arnette said.
The defense was less effected by injury last season, though it did miss defensive end Ryan LaFlamme for a month with an ankle injury. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound defensive end will play a little more outside linebacker this season with Jess Lucas (35 tackles, two sacks) and Jack Pehrson (22 tackles, 4 sacks). When LaFlamme is on the defensive line, he’ll help senior Ian Hunt (39 tackles, 8 TFL) and newcomers Jamal Camp and Luis Gonzalez.
South must replace Max Slott, who had over 200 tackles the last two seasons, but his replacement, Richard Jordan, was named a team captain, and the War Eagles’ secondary returns productive starters in senior Myles Ellis, who led the team in pass deflections, and junior Landon Sims, who made 60 tackles at safety.
The War Eagles return nine players in all who made starts last season.
“We have so many players who can do what we need that we can rotate guys, gives guys a break,” LaFlamme said. “It’s just great depth.”
South starts this season the same way it did last year, in the Corky Kell, only this time the stage is even brighter: the War Eagles will face two-time state runner-up Roswell and play the first-ever game in Georgia State University’s brand-new stadium.
“We didn’t feel like we played as well as we could’ve. So hopefully this year we do perform better,” Arnette said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play a program like Roswell. I mean, what do you say? They’ve played for the state championship two years in a row. We’re excited about that challenge.”
First varsity season: 1991
Playoff appearances: 10 (1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Region titles: 2 (1997, 2015)
State titles: None
At South: 43-33, eighth season.
Overall: 88-57-1, 15th season.
All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 18 vs. Roswell, 5:30 p.m.+
Aug. 25 vs. Pinecrest Academy
Sept. 1 vs. Centennial
Sept. 8 at South Gwinnett
Sept. 22 vs. Lassiter
Oct. 6 vs. Lambert*
Oct. 13 at Milton*
Oct. 20 at North Forsyth*
Oct. 27 vs. Forsyth Central*
Nov. 3 at West Forsyth*
+ Corky Kell Classic (Georgia State Stadium)
* Region 5-7A game