This is the second in a series of stories on the high school football teams in the Chattahoochee Valley. Coming Thursday: Central
Carver players know they will be juggling plenty of hype and their already high expectations this year.
The Tigers have more than a dozen players with offers or serious interest from colleges, including two elite prospects in running back Isaiah Crowell and defensive lineman Gabe Wright. Carver returns nearly 80 players from a team that went 11-2 last season and reached the state quarterfinals. And the team drops from Class AAA to Class AA this season.
All of it amounts to some serious expectations for the Tigers, but ones players say they have managed to mostly keep from becoming distractions.
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“We don’t really think about it at all,” senior lineman Quincy McKinney said. “We come out to practice every day and work to win a state championship. Maybe after practice, when I get home, I think about it then. But I never let myself think about it when we’re practicing or playing.”
Expect the hype to peak on Sept. 3, when Carver hosts Buford, a perennial Class AA powerhouse that has won the previous three Class AA state championships. Talk of televising the game live regionally on CSS has fallen through, said Carver coach Dell McGee, but that does not take away from the attention the game is likely to receive.
“Buford is going to be a great test for us,” McGee said. “They are a three-time state champion, and that game will really let us evaluate where we need to go to be able to play well against teams in Class AA.”
But, McGee said, the rest of the schedule is difficult, too. The coach said he expects Spencer to be hungry for a victory in their annual meeting, and LaGrange and Callaway likely will be top-10 teams when Carver plays them on the road. The upside to a tough schedule, especially the early game against Buford, will present itself at the end of the season, Crowell said.
“I think it’s a very good schedule,” Crowell said. “Buford is good, and we play them early. So, after that, we will be ready for the rest of Class AA. You want to play good teams to get ready for the playoffs, and we will be ready.”
While Carver has some high-level talent, including players nationally ranked at their positions by rivals.com in Crowell (No. 4), McKinney (No. 54) and Wright (No. 8), there are still some questions. Carver lost several key starters to graduation, such as quarterback Devin Burns and linemen Corey Crawford and David Beasley, and McGee said even he is unsure what this year’s team will look like when it opens the season.
“It’s a whole new year, and we haven’t really found our identity yet,” McGee said. “I’m telling the kids to be ready to work every day. We have a lot of things to work on if we want to be physical and outwork our opponents.”
Crowell said talent would not be an issue for Carver this season and the Tigers plan to win with discipline.
“We have the talent it takes,” Crowell said. “We just have to make sure we stay humble, respect what our coaches tell us and work hard. If we can do all those things, we can win a state championship.”
Last year’s record: 11-2 overall, 6-0 Region 2-AAA
Number of returners: 6 offensive and seven defensive starters
Name — Position — Class — Ht./Wt.
Isaiah Crowell — RB — 12 — 6-0/212
Gabriel Wright — DT — 12 — 6-4/290
Quincy McKinney — OT — 12 — 6-4/305
Kris Carson — QB — 12 — 5-11/170
Justin Brown — OG — 12 — 6-0/270
Jodece Smith — OG — 12 — 6-0/270
Dequindre Adams — WR — 12 — 6-0/175
Riyhaud Jones — WR — 12 — 6-0/175
Antonio Carter — DB — 12 — 5-9/175
Edward Pritchett — DB — 12 — 6-0/175
Quintavious Harrow — LB — 12 — 6-1/185
Head coach: Dell McGee (52-14 at Carver)
Assistant coaches: Olten Downs — defensive coordinator, linebackers; Ahmand Tinker — outside linebackers; Detrich Wadley — defensive line; Carlos Jackson — defensive backs; Eric Allen — outside linebackers; Kurt Weathered — defensive line; Josh Kemp — offensive coordinator, wide receivers; Joe Kegler — tight ends; Joe Windon — offensive line; Donnie Jones offensive lines; Curtis Simpson — wide receivers; David Windon — running backs; Richard Reese — kickers; Tamara Sandler — athletic trainer.
Region outlook: Carver drops down a classification to Class AA this season, but McGee said he does not expect that to make things any easier.
The Tigers will have several local Region 5-AA teams looking for a big win, and teams such as Heard County and Manchester will have to be unseated from their usual spots in the postseason, McGee said.
“Callaway has been the team to beat in this region as of late, but Heard County and Manchester have rich football traditions and usually represent this region in the state playoffs annually,” McGee said. “Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer are all local games and are very competitive year in and year out.”
Aug. 27, Spencer (M), 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 3, Buford (M), 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9, Hardaway (K), 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 16, LaGrange (C), 7 p.m.
Oct. 1, Heard County (M), 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 8, at Manchester, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 15, Callaway (C), 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21, Kendrick (M), 7 p.m.
Oct. 28, Jordan (M), 7 p.m.
Nov. 4, Temple (K), 7 p.m.