The South Forsyth football program, in recent months, has done its best to focus on itself.
That seems like an obvious and easily accomplished goal for any football program, but the War Eagles don’t have the same circumstances this year as most. Denmark High School recently opened in the southwestern part of the county, and most of the students at the new school came from South. A good number of them were football players.
So the War Eagles had to absorb two blows during the offseason: The graduation of the winningest senior class in program history, and the loss of many of the young players who would have served as replacements. South speaks of that impact in vague terms, but the War Eagles can’t deny that it exists.
“We’ve had to face a lot more adversity this year than past years,” senior fullback Daryn Rogers said.
But during the Forsyth Sports Media Day, War Eagles head coach Jeff Arnette noted one important trait about the South players that are still there: This senior class, too, has the potential to be the best the program has seen. With this year’s team, the chances of that are not remote.
South has 30 seniors this year, an enviable number for many programs. That experience is especially evident and present on the War Eagles’ defense: Jamal Camp, a recent Georgia Tech commit, and Luis Gonzalez are set to hold down the defensive line; Jack Pehrson, an All-FCN first teamer last fall, returns at linebacker; and Landon Sims, who received the same recognition at safety, returns for his third year starting at that spot.
On offense, senior Drew Morris is set to step in at quarterback. Morris can’t necessarily be classified as a returning starter — his older brother, Cal, was the War Eagles’ first-stringer last year — but he started for South as a sophomore when initial starter Davis Shanley and Cal Morris both went down with injuries, and Drew Morris led South to a win over West in their final regular-season contest.
With Morris locking down the job early, a South offense with less experience surrounding him has benefitted from the stability.
“When you’ve got a quarterback that didn’t have to prove himself, (and) the kids already believe in him, I think it shows in the way we look offensively this early,” Arnette said.
Most of South’s returning experience on offense will be playing right next to Morris. Rogers is set to reprise the fullback/tailback role he’s played for the past two years, and junior Jordan Brunson, who played second-string tailback to Jared Honey last fall, will step into the spot vacated by the graduated senior.
“I think he’s going to shock some people when he gets out there this year,” Arnette said of Brunson.
South hasn’t lacked success in recent years: The War Eagles have been region champs two of the past three years, with 2017’s only regular-season loss coming from a forfeit to Pinecrest Academy. The way that most recent season ended — a first-round playoff loss to Mountain View, a No. 4 seed — is just more motivation for South.
And looking at the season from that vengeance-based perspective might be even less charitable to South than to focus on the losses to Denmark. Region 5-7A is matched this year with Region 8, which includes two of the best programs in the country in Archer and Grayson. An exceptionally difficult matchup likely awaits Region 5’s No. 3 or 4 seed.
But the team’s day-to-day thinking, as explained by Camp, is purposefully narrow, so as not to think about that potential matchup, or the departures to Denmark, or the graduation of a tough-to-follow senior class.
“We just want to be the best South Forsyth team we can be,” Camp said. “We’re not trying to follow in anybody’s footsteps.”