Photo by Brian Paglia
Henry County rising junior T.J. Freeman is one of three quarterbacks battling to replace all-state athlete Chris Moody.
T.J. Freeman stood alone Wednesday in the middle of the practice field at Henry County High School taking snaps from an invisible offensive lineman, faking handoffs to an invisible running back, scanning the field to read an invisible defense.
Again and again, Freeman went through the drill, because he knows he’s not alone when it comes to the Warhawks quarterback competition. In fact, he’s got a lot of company.
Freeman is one of three players auditioning for the starting quarterback spot left vacant with the graduation of All-State athlete Chris Moody. Either Freeman, rising sophomore Marquez Souder or incoming freshman Will Thomas will add their name to what’s been an impressive run of quarterback play at Henry County.
First-year coach Joe Dupree said the competition will last throughout the summer up until the regular-season opener.
But Dupree knows exactly what he’s looking for. A former high school quarterback at Southwest-Macon, he signed with Georgia in 1990 before transferring to Georgia Southern.
“First, I expect them to be leaders. Then, I expect them to be mentally tough. They can’t let things get under their skin. And I expect for them to know what everybody does on offense,” Dupree said. “They have to be me on the field.”
And if they could be a little like Drew Little, Dylan Shaddix or Moody, that would be a plus. Those three kept the quarterback position — and the Warhawks program thereby — stabilized the past six years.
Little provided Henry County with 8,092 passing yards, 94 touchdowns and two region championships from 2006-08. Shaddix transferred from Eagle’s Landing for his senior year and passed for 2,161 yards, 21 touchdowns and led the Warhawks to their third-straight state playoff appearance. Moody passed and ran for 4,139 yards and 38 touchdowns in two seasons while pushing the playoff streak to five seasons.
They won player of the year awards (two total) and state playoffs games (three combined). They gave Henry County football a flair of explosiveness and excitement it had lacked. They put Warhawks football on the radar for college recruiters.
And they left Freeman, Souder and Thomas with lofty standards to meet.
“They’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Dupree said.
Freeman knows the history. He was quarterback on the junior varsity team last season, but spent time on the varsity defense. He watched Moody, now at South Carolina, dazzle with his athleticism, and hopes to do the same.
“To know that you’re a starting quarterback at this school, after the quarterbacks like Drew [Little] and Dylan [Shaddix] and now [Moody], we want to follow in those footsteps,” Freeman said.
But Freeman, Souder and Thomas are walking into a situation unlike any their predecessors faced — new region, new head coach and new faces all over the field after graduating 28 seniors.
“We’re young. We’re going to be inexperienced as an overall team,” Dupree said. “We’re going to have to grow up in a hurry.”
That makes quarterback play even more paramount for Henry County’s success this season.
Dupree has seen reason to feel confident in all three of his choices. He praised Freeman for his “tremendous skill set” and leadership qualities. He admired how Souder quickly caught on to the offense’s new terminology during spring practice despite missing time for track and field. He lauded Thomas’ skill set and “knowledge of the game,” enough to give the 6-foot-3 incoming freshman an equal shot at winning the starting position.
All three have impressed teammates.
“I actually like them,” rising senior offensive and defensive lineman D’von Isaac said. “Coach Dupree, knowing that he was a quarterback in college, he’s teaching them how to read coverages, how to throw the ball, when to throw the ball. ... They’re performing really well. They’ve accepted the challenge.”
Indeed, a challenge awaits either Freeman, Souder or Thomas. At stake is the county’s longest consecutive playoff streak.
None wants to be the one who let it end.
“Trust me, it means a lot,” Freeman said. “You don’t want to be remembered as the team that broke the run.”