By Zach Shugan
ATLANTA — It’s talking season. With just under three weeks until the official start of the 2021 football season, teams can’t yet show off what they’ll look like this year. They can, however, give them an idea with words, and what better occasion to drum up some hype than media day.
Players and coaches gathered Friday morning at the College Football Hall of Fame for Fulton County Schools’ athletics media day. Coaches, along with a pair of players they selected to join them in Atlanta, took turns going on stage and giving a brief preview of the upcoming season.
Here’s what each coach had to say and which players they chose to represent their program.
Head coach Jason Kervin, entering his second season at Alpharetta, was the first of the North Fulton coaches to take the stage and dish on his team. He brought with him junior quarterback Ben Guthrie and senior defensive back Adam Walker, two of the Raiders’ biggest contributors among those returning from last year.
Guthrie showed flashes of greatness in 2020 starting at quarterback as a sophomore against some of the state’s top competition. The dual-threat QB earned second team All-Region honors after passing for 2,120 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 245 yards and four touchdowns. Walker, who tallied 48 tackles and three interceptions, including a pick-six, was an All-Region honorable mention. He’ll lead the secondary this year and might see some reps at wide receiver, too.
Cambridge reached unprecedented heights in 2020, as head coach Craig Bennett led the team to its first playoff win in the program’s nine-year history. Bennett returns in 2021 for his 10th season at the helm, and also returning are senior quarterback Zach Harris and senior linebacker Bennett Long.
Harris has started at quarterback for the Bears since his freshman year in 2018 and has steadily improved each year. As a junior, the two-sport athlete with several Division I baseball offers passed for over 2,000 yards and was named the Region 7-6A offensive player of the year. Long has been a mainstay in the Bears front seven for the past two seasons, and he’ll lead the group as a senior.
Sean O’Sullivan enters his second season as Centennial’s head coach, although this spring and summer was his first true off-season with the team since the pandemic derailed his first few months on the job last year.
Representing Centennial alongside O’Sullivan were senior linemen Jake Willbanks and Daniel Max, two players he touted for their commitment to changing the Knights’ culture. With these two seniors and sophomore All-American Daniel Calhoun, it’s safe to say the Knights are strong in the trenches.
Chattahoochee head coach Mike Malone enters his third season leading the Cougars, but he’s another coach who didn’t have a true off-season with his team until this year. Malone selected junior wide receiver Lawton Cox and junior defensive end Caden Jackson, a pair of first-year starters, to join him at media day.
While Malone is focused on the product on the field, he seems just as focused with what’s going on off the field. He highlighted the importance of mental health and being there for the players at any time.
“We’re simply just trying to level these kids into real men,” Malone said.
Johns Creek Gladiators
Matt Helmerich is back for his fifth season as Johns Creek’s head coach. Although the Gladiators didn’t have a bad season in 2020, going 4-2 in region play and making the 6A playoffs as a four seed, they finished 4-5 for their first losing season since 2017, which was Helmerich’s first year on the job.
They certainly have the talent to get back to contending for a region title in 2021. With Helmerich on stage Friday were senior linebackers Micah Gay and Thaxton Gallagher, two players who he said haven’t missed a practice in years. And they’re not just high-character. They’re also high-talent, as the two combined for 130 tackles in 2020. The Gladiators have several other players currently committed to play college football or sure to be committed at some point in the next few years.
Milton enters the 2021 season as one of the most talked about teams in the state. Fifth-year head coach Adam Clack had a bevy of talented players to choose from, but the lucky two to join him in Atlanta were senior quarterback Devin Farrell and junior defensive end Lebbeus “L.T.” Overton.
Farrell committed to Virginia Tech earlier this year and looks to be healthy for the first time since injuring his foot during the 2020 playoffs. However, his counterpart Overton, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2023, wheeled in to media day on a scooter while wearing a walking boot on his left foot. There’s a chance the state’s leading pass rusher from a season ago could miss Milton’s first couple games of the season against Hapeville Charter and North Cobb. With or without Overton, the expectations from inside and outside the Eagles’ program are sure to be high this fall, as many have pegged Milton as the top team in Class 7A entering the season.
Northview begins a new era in 2021 under the direction of first-year head coach Scott Schwarzer, who comes to the school after leading Chamblee the previous two years.
Schwarzer thanked the school, community and players for their commitment to building the program. After starting the spring with less than 15 players, Schwarzer said the head count is up to 60. Two players who have been around are senior tight end Patrick Hester and senior running back Marcus Godbey, a pair of All-Region selections in 2020. Even with the challenge of overcoming those numbers, Schwarzer said the goal is to make the 5A state playoffs, which he feels (and rightly so) is a realistic possibility.
Roswell finished 8-3 and made it to second round of the 7A state playoffs in Chris Prewett‘s first year as head coach, and they’re hoping to take it a step further in year two. Prewett chose senior quarterback Robbie Roper and senior linebacker Case Barrett, two players he said are key to that mission, to join him in Atlanta for media day.
Roper burst onto scene in 2020 in his first year commanding the offense, earning first team All-Region honors after passing for 2,200 yards and rushing for 300 yards. Barrett, a second team All-Region selection last season, was the Hornets’ leading tackler as a junior, tallying 97 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks.