One of the toughest things about high school football is going through camp each August in the heat of central Georgia. Over the last weekend and this week, the sounds of helmets and pads popping could be heard behind the field house at ULHS and at Matthews Field, where the team practices occasionally.
The Knights are currently underway in preparing for their first season under new head coach Tommy Parks, as Parks and his staff are becoming acclimated to the Knights and vice versa. The team is starting to take form, with some new faces and some old.
The Knights’ first challenge of the 2014 season will come in the form of the Troup County Tigers in a scrimmage game on Aug. 15 at Matthews Field. The Tigers are in Region 5-AAAA, possibly the toughest region in the entire state of Georgia. The Tigers’ non-region opponents are also some of the toughest around, giving Troup County one of the toughest schedules in the state. Their region will consist of three teams ranked in the top 10, with Sandy Creek, Carrollton, and Woodward Academy, and add Whitewater and Fayette County to complete the region. Their non-region games are against Harris County, LaGrange, Northgate, and Carver-Columbus.
As far as the Knights are concerned, they have seemingly taken to the new coaching staff very quickly, picking up on the new defensive scheme and offensive play calling signs. Some of the offense is very similar to what the Knights have run in the past few years, while the defense will look a little different. Upson-Lee will line up in an 8-man front base defense, playing some cover 3 in the secondary, and some cover 1 also. In the past, the Knights have played a lot of cover 2 in the secondary, a secondary that gave up 1,998 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in 2013, while picking off 10 passes.
The Knights’ defensive front is expected to be one of the stronger parts of this season’s team. Led by All-Region junior David Marshall (6’4, 265) and senior Adric Johnson (6’, 260), the Knights should continue to do a good job in run defense. Last season the Knights gave up about 3.6 yards per carry, while averaging nearly five yards per carry on offense. The Knights will also return linebackers Quay Reviere (5’10, 185) and Brodrick Durrah (5’11, 190). The secondary will look quite different, with some positions still up in the air. At corner back, senior Antonio Grantling and junior Shamare Bailey have seen a lot of reps, while newcomer Antoine Miller (6’1, 190) has looked good at safety.
Offensively the Knights have two key starters returning on the offensive line. Two-time All-Region player Dravion Ivey returns to anchor down the line, along with junior Logan Gulley, who has been a two-year starter at center. Sophomore Kalen Puckett will return at quarterback, after passing for 821 yards and five touchdowns last season as a freshman. Kenderius Pennyman (6’, 205) will lead the backfield, which has some younger players that can also earn some reps.
Perhaps the most improved position on the team this season will be the wide receivers. Seniors Keanan “K.J.” Hutchins (6’, 185) and Kaleb Allen (6’1, 195) will be part of a receiving corps which has the potential to be really good. Hutchins came on late last season, catching 16 passes for 187 yards, while Kaleb Allen was hurt for most of the year, but in the last two games of the season he was able to catch four balls for 41 yards. Juniors O’qualon Harris (6’ 170) and Kendarious “Scoop” Traylor (6’1, 185) round out the top four receivers, as Harris caught six passes last season for 76 yards and a touchdown, while Traylor caught two passes for 15 yards. Sophomores Karl Drake (6’2, 170) and Quay Battle can also expect to see some reps at wide out.
Come out to Matthews Field and see the Knights as the prepare for their 2014 season, by taking on the Troup County Tigers in a scrimmage game on Aug. 15.
Wes McCard can be contatced at (706) 647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.