There are just 30 days remaining until the kickoff of the 2017 high school football season. But make no mistake, preparations for the upcoming campaign got underway months ago in weight rooms, sand pits and practice fields throughout the state. And teams throughout northeast Georgia are in full countdown mode.
With that in mind we spent the last few days catching up with programs around our area to get a feel for how spring practice went, how the summer is going and what coaches believe the fall will look like. We call the series "Two-a-Days" in honor of those old-school grinding sessions that lead us out of summer and into fall, asking each area coach two key questions about the state of their respective programs.
Over the next few days, AccessWDUN's Friday Game Night will get you prepped for the start of gridiron action with responses from coaches throughout northeast Georgia. (Teams run in alphabetical order)...
The Hawks have turned potential into dominant reality the past two seasons, storming to back-to-back 13-1 records, region championships and state semifinal appearances in the largest classification in the state. Yet the 2017 season dawns with Mill Creek facing eight new starters on each side of the ball. Are the Hawks nervous? Hardly. In fact, coach Shannon Jarvis sounded almost giddy with anticipation as he discussed how the summer has developed and the fact that a 47-member senior class is ready to step in and fill the breach for a Mill Creek program that has had a large taste of success and wants a third course...
QUESTION: Your program graduated a lot of yardage and point production from its 2016 offense, as well as a stellar placekicker. With that in mind, who do you see stepping in to fill those roles in 2017?
ANSWER: We've got a stable of three running backs and receivers coming in this year that have been successful through our program. We're excited about our skill people on offense. I do think it'll be by committee. We've got three running backs, with Rafael Morales and Uriah Leverette and CJ Johnson, we feel very good about. Cole Wroble is a returning player, starter for us last year as our fullback, and he was very productive both running and catching the ball out of the backfield. Out of our backfield, we feel good about them. And then at receiver and our little "H" position, we've got to replace Edmond Graham, who had a great season, but we've got two players -- Austin Williams and Parker Wroble -- had great offseason. These are very fast kids, and we feel like we can insert them in. Because really -- I say this for offense and defense -- our program is such that we can't go through and rebuild every year. We've got to be able to put these players in and maintain the standard we've put in place. And that can be the point in looking no further than our offensive line, because we're replacing four of our starters there as well. And with that line we've got some kids that have gotten bigger, they're athletic, and we're excited about them. But it won't be like last year when we returned a whole bunch of offensive linemen, so we understand that. And we've been here long enough, and we understand those transition years, and truthfully it brings a lot of excitement to us as coaches because we get excited to see kids get out there for the first time and be successful and see them grow. You're correct, we lose a lot of production, got a lot of new faces out there, but I van assure you, we're very excited about this year and excited about the next turn for some of these players.
Q: Flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, who are some of the kids you see as potential breakout players this season?
A: (Senior) Shaka Hayward is a returning starter this year, as is (senior) Jonathan Gipson. Shaka was a safety last year, we've moved him to outside linebacker. He's grown about three inches and about 30 pounds. He's grown into an outside linebacker, but he was a very productive player for us last year that we're excited about. Also Jonathan Gipson is a heavily-recruited player; he's started for us since his sophomore year, and (senior) Jack Griffith was a starting defensive lineman. So we've got kind of one starter at each level that's back. And, again, we've got to surround them with some kids that maybe don't have a lot of experience, but, athletically, we feel they'll be able to step in and play well for us. Our chemistry on our team has proven this summer very, very good. These kids really like each other. We have 47 seniors. They have played together for a long time, and we've got to win football games based on our chemistry, heart, our passion of play... Some people say that generically, but here at Mill Creek that's something that's a culture of our program. And we have in this class a lot of program kids, and I say that proudly. To be honest with you, that's probably as much my excitement as anything. We're fixing to go in to this year with a lot of unknowns, but there's a lot of program kids that we're really going to look forward to them getting their successes and everything they've been working toward for five-six years. And that's what we're going to do it with.