New coach, new quarterback, same lofty expectations.
The faces in a couple of key spots may have changed for the Carver High football team, but the results at season’s end should be the same.
That’s the expectation of coach Joe Kegler, at least, who is looking to maintain the lofty standing among the state’s elite that former coach Dell McGee attained during his eight years at the helm.
“In my opinion, we’re one of the better programs in the state,” Kegler said. “We’re not building a program. We’re trying to continue the success that the program’s been having.”
Translation: We’re trying to win championships.
Every team wants to win championships, but not every team has proven its ability to play at a championship level.
The Tigers won a state title in 2007 and were perennial contenders in six of the other seven years under McGee, advancing to the semifinals on four other occasions.
This season, with a host of talent on both sides of the ball, anything less than that will be somewhat of a disappointment.
The aforementioned “new quarterback” is Jawon Pass, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore who played in limited time behind former starter Torrance McGee last season. McGee, who started the past two years for the Tigers, transferred to North Cobb after last season.
Pass takes over with a reputation already preceding him. Before starting a single game under center, he has already received scholarship offers from Clemson, North Carolina and Mississippi State.
His physical stature, athleticism and throwing ability make him a prototypical signal-caller.
In the past, Carver has been more of a run-first team. Kegler said he didn’t expect the commitment to the run to change, but said Pass does have an ability that warrants more attention to the passing game.
“We try to stay as balanced as possible,” Kegler said. “If (Pass) hits his first seven or eight passes, though, we’d be fools not to keep throwing. We just need to recognize what he’s doing well and take what the defense gives us.”
Pass will be joined by a handful of returnees at running back and wide receiver. Seniors Fred Coleman and Noah Hickey will come out of the backfield, while senior Drelon Freeman and junior Nate Barley will line up wide. Both receivers measure 6 feet, and should present good targets for the rookie quarterback.
Hickey shared time with a slew of other backs last season, but was one of the team’s home-run threats on the ground.
Offensive line and tight end are filled with all upper classmen, though a couple are new starters this season after losing key guys at center and tackle.
Domique Johnson will play tight end, Garrett Coleman and Cordarius Smith will be at tackle, Josh Frazier and Kijuana Johnson will man the guard positions, and James Jones will play center.
Three of the five linemen come in at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds or more.
As always for the Tigers, the defense should be considered a strength. They return nine of 11 guys off of last year’s squad that allowed just 180 points in 13 games last season (13.8 per game), 64 of which came in their two losses to Colquitt County (33-0) and Buford (31-7).
The star of the defense will be Mekhi Brown, a linebacker/defensive end hybrid who came alive in the second half as a sophomore last year. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Brown is considered one of the top players at his position in the country and has already committed to play at Alabama when he graduates in two years.
He’s not the lone college recruit on this defense, either.
Junior Khane Pass has picked up offers from Clemson and North Carolina, Tim Whatley, last season’s All-Bi-City co-defensive player of the year, has offers from Duke and East Carolina, and Kiante Walton has interest from Georgia State, Jacksonville State and Troy, among others.
There are more, of course. And even guys who don’t have the big-name offers are expected to fill their roles successfully.
There will be Robert Jernigan and Josh Curry, both juniors, at defensive end. Sophomore T.J. London will hold down the defensive tackle spot, and Niemus Bryant, a Georgia State commit, will join Brown, Whatley and Tim London at linebacker.
Pass and Walton will play safety, and Dequindre Colemand and Talik Quarterman will play cornerback.
The defensive line averages nearly 290 pounds, and the linebackers and secondary and talented and experienced.
This is a defense that should be expected to do big things this season.
The question is never if Carver will be talented, only how far it can go at the end of the season.
“There are guys with a lot of God-given talent,” Kegler said of his team. “They’re good kids, and they work hard. They’re listening, buying in to what we’re doing.”
The Tigers don’t play in a particularly strong region, with the exception of the always dangerous Peach County, but the same hurdles that have stood in their way over the past few years remain at the state level.
It’s too early to say that’s where Carver’s attention should be focused, but from the outside looking in, it certainly appears the Tigers have the experience and talent necessary to contend deep into the playoffs.
Will this be the year? Only time will tell.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.