When it comes to the sport of football, the spotlight doesn’t often shine on what’s happening in the trenches. The big guys up front generally live an anonymous lifestyle on the football field.
However, few things tell the story of what happens on the field better than the scoreboard. And, what happens in the trenches is often the difference in coming out on the positive side of the scoreboard.
Which brings us to the 2017 football season for the Thompson Warriors, who have an opportunity for a special season. Guess what the key is to making that happen?
“It’s going to boil down to offensive and defensive line,” said Warriors’ head coach Mark Freeman, who is entering his third season as the program’s head coach. “How well can they play? And how much can we load up with depth? Offensive and defensive line, there is no doubt, that if we’re good at, then we’re going to have a good season. If we’re not, then we’re going to have to create some opportunities.”
Time will tell if the Warriors can be successful up front.
On the offensive side, left tackle Amari Kight, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound junior, is among the best offensive linemen in the state. Kight already has a host of SEC scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Arkansas, as well as others throughout the nation. The only other Warrior offensive lineman with extensive varsity experience, though, is senior Alex Pearman, who is recuperating from a broken foot.
Freeman said other key offensive linemen are junior center Seth MacMillan, who received some experience last season, and senior Seth Whitlock. Freeman said the coaching staff moved junior Mason Crain over from defense in hopes that “he’s going to be a shot in the arm and help us over there.”
The coaching staff, ultimately, hopes to find a regular offensive line rotation of at least seven players.
It appears the Warriors have plenty of offensive playmakers. Taulia Tagovailoa, a junior transfer from Hawaii, is a dual-threat quarterback with tons of talent. Running backs Shadrick Byrd and Jojo Ford are returning starters. At wide receiver, senior Mo Edwards and junior Ahmad Edwards are big-time playmakers and senior Alondae Vassar is an experienced threat. Freeman said the Warriors also have some younger players who will contribute.
“At any level, the more you can take advantage of 53 yards, it puts the defense in a situation where their guy better tackle your guy,” Freeman said, talking about the width of the field. “You hope somewhere along there, one of those five guys can catch a ball and break a tackle or we can break a run at the line of scrimmage. We feel like if we can spread them out and throw quick game, yeah, they might get six in the box, with our five, but he’s got to tackle our running back every time. That’s why we do.”
The Warriors had tremendous success in 7-on-7 competition during the summer, including winning the Team USA Regional title in Montgomery and finishing in the top four in the Team USA Nationals.
On defense, the Warriors have a strong start up front with returning starters in senior Mackie McNeal III and junior Eric Mizell. Both are college football prospects. Linebackers KJ Robertson and Jalen Rayam are also standout players with plenty of college options. The Warriors will build around those four excellent players on defense.
“It’s going to come down to defensive line and finding out who we’ve got to play inside backers,” Freeman said.
Some questions also have to be answered in the secondary. There’s no question that senior safety Myles Brown, who earned all-state mention last year, is a standout. He’ll need to lead the way in an inexperienced secondary.
“We got to find two corners who can really lock down receivers out there,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to replace three guys in the secondary and two inside linebackers. I think, last year, our defense was as good as anybody in the region. I know, statistically, they were. If we can replace those five guys, I think they will be as good as we were last year.”
On Friday, the Warriors will take their first step. Obviously, difficult assignments are the norm in Class 7A Region 3 play. So, it won’t be a shock to Warriors when Georgia power Hapeville Charter comes to town for a 7 p.m. season opener at Larry Simmons Stadium. The visitors, according to Freeman, have “7 or 8 Division I football players (and) the defensive line is as big and athletic as anybody we’ll see.”
It should be an intriguing start to what promises to be a thrilling season.