Thursday night marked the return of high school football at War Eagle Stadium.
South Forsyth was originally slated play its first game at home against Roswell, but Fulton County decided last month to suspend the start of the season until Sept. 14, leaving South with a hole in its schedule.
Still, the War Eagles hosted a split-squad scrimmage and invited fans and parents, offering a glimpse at the 2020 team. The two teams tied 10-10.
“It’s always a challenge when you split the offensive team, especially at the offensive line,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said. “Those guys need to work together so much, and then when you have to split them it’s a little bit tougher. I thought they played well; I thought everybody did. I thought we ran to the football on defense, and I think you saw we have a few playmakers out there. Even with the linemen split, you were able to see that.”
It also marked the return of senior Julian Bolanos, a linebacker who missed parts of his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons because of injury.
“It was a little overwhelming getting used to it, just because I’ve been out for so long,” Bolanos said. “But I’ve been working really hard, preparing and waiting for this season to come, so it was really rewarding being able to play a lot and perform how I know I’m capable of, because I haven’t been able to do that in a while.”
Bolanos broke his ankle during his freshman season, an injury that lingered into the start of his sophomore year. Bolanos returned from that injury only to tear his ACL toward the end of the sophomore season, which knocked him out for much of his junior year.
He returned in October 2019, getting into games against Lambert and Milton, but his injury flared up against Milton and Bolanos missed the rest of the season.
Bolanos heard his named called over the loudspeaker several times during Thursday’s scrimmage, including once in the third quarter when he dragged down quarterback Ty Watkins for a 6-yard sack.
“It was honestly super exciting, just because I’ve been hurt for so long,” Bolanos said. “I’ve walked out here with the team, but being able to actually go out there is just really exciting, and it’s so fun. There’s nothing like it.”
Arnette is looking for Bolanos to help anchor the linebacker position, a group that appeared to play up to its potential Thursday night.
“It was super nice to see him,” Arnette said. “If he stays healthy, he’s going to make a lot of plays for us.”
The longest play of the game also came in the third quarter, when junior Kyle Durham found senior Mitch Thompson on a deep route for a 63-yard touchdown.
South must replace a pair of dynamic receivers in Colby Cruz and Cameron Schurr, and Arnette believes Thompson will play a key part in the offense.
Thompson caught 22 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown last year.
“Well, I think that was Kyle hooking up with Mitch Thompson, and I think you’re going to see a lot of that this year,” Arnette said. “I think you saw what McGlockton can do on the other side. Ty Watkins, the quarterback over there, those two hooked up several times, so it was good to see some big plays.”
Senior Devin McGlockton caught the only other touchdown of the night, a 7-yard TD snag that was set up by an athletic 28-yard grab on a jump ball from Watkins.
Watkins targeted junior Mason Capers on the play before the touchdown, but sophomore Josh Nelson made an athletic play to deflect the ball in the end zone.
Nelson’s brother, Chris Nelson, took snaps at quarterback and flashed his acceleration.
“Him and his twin brother are both such talented kids,” Arnette said. “They’re just sophomores so … they’re still finding their niche. Both of them played a lot at corner tonight and did a good job. You’re going to see a lot of them in the fall.”
Junior Gavin Morris opened the second half with a 47-yard halfback pass to McGlockton, which set up a 45-yard field goal by freshman Davis Little.
Another War Eagle made his return to the sidelines, as former standout running back Sam Outlaw made his debut as South’s running backs coach.
“It’s been awesome. I think I’ve got, what, four guys on my staff that played for me – (Nick) Belyew, both Outlaws and then Coach (Heath) Hover,” Arnette said. “It’s always a special time when you get to bring back your players and have them coach with you. They’re just great guys, all those guys – my whole staff. I can’t say enough about my staff.”
South plans to open the season Sept. 18 at Dawson County, giving the War Eagles two more weeks to prepare.
For Bolanos, that game can’t come soon enough.
“It’s something I’ve done since I played over at Sharon Springs,” Bolanos said. “I’ve been lifting really hard and getting bigger – I gained about 10 pounds this offseason. There’s some great leaders in that corps, so I feel like I fit right in with them. If I ever feel like I need some help, there’s some great guys who will help pick me up.”