BY CHRIS GOLTERMANN
East Coweta’s rising senior class of football players is more prepared than ever for what awaits them this fall. Unlike 2018, there will be no sticker shock when it comes to looking at the schedule and the challenges coming their way.
But there won’t be any excuses not to rise to the occasion either.
It’s why players from the Indians’ Class of 2020, which officially steps front and center following Saturday’s graduation ceremonies at Garland Shoemake Stadium, are already on the clock.
“We’ve got to grow up in a lot of areas. Our leadership has to step up and our senior class has to improve,” said head coach John Small. “They haven’t been in a position to lead because last year’s senior group did a great job. We need some guys to step up and if they don’t, some younger ones are going to bypass them.”
A 4-8 record was as much indicative of a topsy-turvy year where the Indians went through a gauntlet of a schedule but still managed to reach the second round of the GHSA playoffs for the first time since 2012.
As disappointing as a losing mark was to digest, East Coweta’s trip to the Sweet 16 achieved the purpose of a plan to ramp up the slate of five non-region opponents, four of which remain on the schedule for 2019.
“We have an expectation now. Knowing what we went through last year, we went through it, let’s build off it and not go backward,” Small said. “So we just need a lot of growth and people stepping up.”
Along with completing two-year contracts with Carrollton, Lowndes, North Cobb and McEachern, the Indians will face Mill Creek as their season-opening opponent in the Corky Kell Classic.
The opener will be played in less than 100 days and counting — Friday, Aug. 24, at 9 p.m., at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
A scrimmage effort at Sandy Creek provided some a positive outlook heading into the summer. Even with a large group of 28-30 players missing at points of the 10-day spring practice period, East Coweta took a 7-0 lead into halftime on a touchdown run by Jayland Rivers.
Dylan Spelios added a fumble recovery on defense in a game that remained tied through much of the second half.
“Every spring is about the same,” Small said. “You get through the 10 days and you go we’ve got a lot of work to do. But a lot of kids got a lot of reps.”
East Coweta used at least four quarterbacks in the scrimmage game led by Devin Gelband and Gabe Gray, both of whom worked on the varsity as backups last year.
“They kind of separated themselves a little bit,” Small said of a group of quarterbacks that also includes Fate Simmons and Ethan McCawley, who had a long completion late in the scrimmage game. “Those two young guys did a good job as well.”
Rivers and Corey Bridges carried the load in the backfield while facing a huge hole left by Gerald Green, who went through spring practice at Georgia Southern after rushing for 1,617 yards and 16 touchdown.
East Coweta also graduates its leading passer (Nate Cronic, 1,492 yards) and top receiver (Brayden Carey, 25 receptions) on offense as well as the team’s two leading tacklers defensively in Taylor McCawley and Alex Derico.
Areas of strength are still visible, especially on the offensive line. A solid group of returners should get an additional boost from a group of rising freshmen that include newcomers from East Coweta Middle’s CCMSAL championship team.
“Offensive line should be a strong point for us,” Small said. “They’ve got some grit about them.”
Kickers Dylan Lewis and Beau Beldon equally give the Indians two strong legs on special teams.
On top of the transitions on the field, the Indians’ staff is going through one as well that will have Small taking over defensive coordinator duties after assistant Rusty Easom was hired as head coach and athletic director at Rutland High in Macon. Todd Beldon moves back to the varsity after coaching the ninth grade program.
“They’ve bought into it and I thought they did some good things this spring. We threw a lot at them early to see what would stick and then we can go polish it up. They’re learning new terminology and new techniques. Our coaching did a tremendous job staying the course.”