Jeff Hurndon Photography / ELCA quarterback Dalton Etheridge and the Chargers look like the clear favorite to win the private school Class A title.
1. Graduation has been too much for Henry County to overcome
When you graduate almost 30 seniors from a second round playoff team, some rebuilding struggles will occur. Throw in a first-year coach who is counting on several inexperienced players to play major roles and the challenge is even tougher.
That’s the situation new Warhawks coach Joe Dupree has faced this season. Gone is all-state quarterback Chris Moody (South Carolina) and defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama), the two cornerstones of last year’s success. In all, seven players signed college scholarships in Henry County’s class of 2012.
Dupree said he knew this season would be challenging when he took the job. The coaching staff was overhauled, except for defensive coordinator Bob Smith. D’von Isaac, a big defensive end with Division I talent who was being counted to be a team leader, transferred mid-summer to Alpharetta.
How quickly Dupree can rebuild the Warhawks is hard to predict; the team’s best talent, defensive end Terrance Waugh, is a senior.
But there’s no time to think about the future with region games against No. 1 Peach County (5-0) and No. 6 Carver-Columbus (4-1) the next two weeks.
2. Stockbridge proves it can become a winner
Nobody is questioning Kevin Whitley’s move from playoff contender Creekside to Stockbridge now.
That was the overwhelming question when Whitley left Creekside to become Stockbridge’s head coach in 2009. He’d taken the Seminoles to the playoffs six straight seasons and had a steady infusion of talent year in and year out. Stockbridge hadn’t made the playoffs since 1968.
All that changed when Whitley arrived. He got the Tigers to the playoffs in 2010. He took them a step further last season, hosting a playoff game for the first time ever and winning the program’s first playoff game in school history.
But that almost pales in comparison to what Whitley and Stockbridge did last Friday. At previously No. 2-ranked Griffin, the Tigers won 17-14 on a field goal as time expired to become first ever in county history to beat the Bears.
So consider Whitley’s project complete. Who knows if Stockbridge ever wins a state championship. Whitley has proven the Tigers can be consistent winners and a program to be reckoned with.
3. There is some good football off of Exit 212
Yes, take Exit 212 off Interstate-75, hang a right and you’ll run into Strong Rock Christian, one of the season’s biggest surprises at 3-1.
Or you could take a left and head toward Locust Grove, another surprising team off to a school-best 4-1 start.
Are they legitimate contenders? That question will start to get answered in the next few weeks as region play begins. Locust Grove gets its first big test Friday when it hosts Dutchtown (4-1). After Friday’s game against Pace Academy, the Patriots play a three-game stretch against Landmark Christian, Holy Innocents’ and Eagle’s Landing Christian.
No matter the outcome, Locust Grove and Strong Rock look the part of teams that aren’t going away easily this season. The Wildcats get your attention with quarterback Keenan Wise and wide receiver Cortez McDowell. Strong Rock follows the lead of quarterback Zach Moss.
4. ELCA may be better than advertised
Take away two turnovers and a special team’s miscue, and the Chargers might be undefeated. Despite its mistakes in the season opener against No. 3 Washington County, a Class AAA school, the Chargers only lost 24-19 at home.
Even as injuries hit ELCA, who is still without senior defensive end and Notre Dame commit Isaac Rochell, the Chargers didn’t miss a beat, getting victories against Clinch County (47-20), Hapeville Charter (56-14) and Holy Innocents’ (42-3).
The Chargers have first-year quarterback Dalton Etheridge and linebacker Josh Shockley to thank for that. Etheridge is piling up the touchdowns with an athleticism ELCA hasn’t had at quarterback before. Shockley entered the season as an all-state selection and has backed it up with clutch plays.
ELCA is sure to get challenged in the state tournament, but with public and private schools split this year, the Chargers could be all alone on top at the end.
5. Rex Robertson knows offenses
Sure, he had weapons galore in eight seasons at Henry County. Sure, anyone could score with Drew Little (Georgia State), Chris Jackson (Georgia Tech), Jamal-Rashad Patterson (Stanford), Markeith Ambles (Southern California) and Chris Moody (South Carolina).
Robertson helped the Warhawks rise out of anonymity into a dangerous team that won two region championships, made five straight playoff appearances and caught the attention of college recruiters across the country.
Now, at Eagle’s Landing, he’s doing the same.
He’s helped take an offense that averaged 10.8 points a game last season get that number up to 29.2 points per game. He’s turning first-year quarterback Bradley Dewberry and 6-foot-5 wide receiver Warren Wright into dangerous weapons. He’s turning junior running back Corey Holloway into a star-in-the-making. He’s turned senior tight end Bill Teknipp into even more of a touchdown-catching machine.
Despite its 0-5 record, he’s helped turn Eagle’s Landing into one of the most exciting offenses in the Southern Crescent.