It’s been a winning decade for Cavaliers
HOGANSVILLE – It’s been quite a ride for Pete Wiggins.
Wiggins, after serving as an assistant coach at Callaway High, was promoted to head coach before the 2005 season when Claude Giddens stepped down.
The Cavaliers had losing records in Wiggins’ first two seasons at the helm, although they did reach the playoffs in 2006.
The Cavaliers went 8-3 in 2007, and they’ve been off and running since then.
Callaway has reached the state playoffs in 11 straight years, and they haven’t won fewer than seven games in any of the past 10 seasons.
Since 2008, the Cavaliers have won at least one playoff game every year but one, and they made it to the Class AAA final four in 2013.
Wiggins has an overall record of 91-39 in his 12 seasons as head coach, and he has a chance to reach the 100-win mark at some point this fall.
“It’s a lot of good people, and the kids have bought into what we do, and they work extremely hard,” Wiggins said. “When we go on the field, they believe we’re going to win, and that’s really special, and it’s a special place. Each Friday night, the atmosphere at Callaway Stadium is a great one. To look up in the stands and see all the red and black support is great.”
While there are changeovers on the coaching staff each season, Wiggins has been able to keep the same coordinators throughout his time as head coach.
Dusty Hubbard, who is also the head baseball coach, is Callaway’s defensive coordinator, and Matt Napier is the offensive coordinator.
“I’m very fortunate to have the group of coaches that we have at Callaway High School,” Wiggins said. “You feel like you have to surround yourself with great people, and I’m certainly surrounded by some really good football coaches, and also some great men.”
The Cavaliers are coming off yet another successful season.
Callaway won a region championship, posted a 10-2 record and lost to eventual state champion Westminster in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
Callaway lost some key players from last year’s team, most notably all-state running back Cedric Maynard who ran for nearly 2,500 yards in 12 games.
The potential is there for this team to do some special things, though, and Wiggins said the players have done everything asked of them.
“Our kids have worked hard,” Wiggins said. “We do have the potential to be a good football, but the kids have worked to get there. It doesn’t just happen. They’ve been in the weight room. They’ve been to camp. They’ve busted their butt at practice, day in and day out.”
Wiggins added that “each year, the relationships you build with kids is so special.”
Here’s a look at this year’s team:
Wherever Braylon Sanders is on a football field, chances are he is going to make something special happen.
Sanders has been a wide receiver and quarterback during his time at Callaway, and he has been an impact player at both positions.
In last week’s preseason game against Northside, Sanders caught a touchdown pass from Dylan Johnson, and he also had a scoring run when he was lined up at quarterback.
“He can play quarterback, he can play receiver, he can play in the secondary,” Wiggins said. “He just brings a lot to the table with his speed. He’s worked hard this summer. I’m really proud of Braylon’s leadership on and off the field.”
Sanders had a breakout season as a wide receiver in 2014, and he moved to quarterback last season and was playing well when he went down with an injury midway through the season.
When Sanders returned, he moved back to wide receiver.
As for this year, Sanders will likely end up playing some at both positions, and Johnson will play quarterback as well.
Callaway offensive coordinator Matt Napier said Sanders is similar to some of Callaway’s great players from past years.
“He’s kind of like Terry (Godwin), and Quan (Bray), and Ricky Parks, and Tez Parks, and all those guys,” Napier said. “They’re all team players. They’ll do anything that you need them to do. They’re willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win, and I think that’s part of why we’ve been successful, is we have guys that are like that, that are team players. He’s a long the line of those. And that’s something you can sell to recruiters. You get him, he’s not going to be pigeon-holed. He can be versatile.”
Johnson, meanwhile, has been a critical player as well for the Cavaliers the past three years.
Johnson has played multiple positions on defense, he has been a quarterback, and he also handles the team’s punting duties.
Johnson, a senior, has been Callaway’s quarterback on an off since his sophomore season, usually when he’s filling in for an injured player.
He filled in for Godwin in 2014, and he moved to quarterback last year when Sanders was unable to go.
“You think about the years he’s played, and the big games he’s played in, even back to his sophomore year,” Napier said of Johnson. “He’s got a lot of experience behind center.”
When Sanders is at wide receiver, he gives the Cavaliers an opportunity to score on every play.
Against Northside, Johnson lofted a ball into double coverage which is usually a low-percentage play, but Sanders went up and had his hands on the ball and almost made a remarkable catch.
“With him, you’ve got a shot,” Napier said. “And I’ve seen him make that catch 700 times with a lot of people around him.”
Courtney Williams and DQ Wilkerson also give Callaway some talented and experienced players at the receiver position.
“Those two guys are really good players for us,” Napier said. “They both played a lot for us last year. When Braylon was quarterback, those two guys played a whole bunch. They got a lot of experience.”
At running back, replacing a player of Cedric Maynard’s ability is no easy task, but junior DJ Atkins had a breakout performance in the preseason game against Northside with two long touchdown runs.
Qua Hines and Dominique Copeland also figures to get their share of carries this season.
“They have the talent, and they’ve worked hard,” Napier said of Atkins and the other running backs. “We’ve put in a lot of time with those guys in the weight room and camp, and just the repitition over and over again.”
Atkins played at Spencer as a freshman and was a starter on the defensive side of the ball, and he didn’t play last season.
“He’s a football player,” running backs coach Matt Neighbors said. “We’re excited about him. He’s working hard this summer.”
Jibrell Jackson will step into the fullback role, and while he’ll have a key role as a blocker, he’ll get some carries as well.
“He’s a big load,” Napier said. “He’s 250 pounds. He’s hard to tackle.”
In Callaway’s offense, the fullback is oftentimes a de facto offensive lineman, and Napier said Jackson has taken that role seriously.
“He went to offensive-line camp this summer,” Napier said. “That position for us the past few years has really been a good blocker, and he’s got good hands. He can catch. He’s got a quickness about him, and he’s got one of the best punches on the team playing linebacker.”
As for the men up front, Callaway figures to be in good shape there.
The offensive line is anchored by sophomore Keiondre Jones, who started a year ago and has received offers from colleges from across the country.
John Curtis and Lawrence Thompson are also veterans on the offensive line, and Jalen Moss and Dominic Carter figure to fill out the lineup, which defensive starter Thomas Hodge providing depth.
“We lost three seniors last year,” Napier said. “Stephen Curtis and Cortney Laye were some of the best linemen we’ve ever had. But there’s some experience there. For four of them, that was not there first time playing.”
Callaway’s defense made a strong opening statement in last week’s preseason game against Northside.
When the starters were on the field in the first half, Northside’s six possessions resulted in four three-and-outs, a turnover, and one touchdown.
“I was real pleased with our effort,” Callaway defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard said. “I thought we played hard. I thought we ran to the football hard. We looked hungry. Now we didn’t always do the right thing, but we made up for that with a lot of good effort. On the touchdown run, they caught us when we didn’t do the right thing. And it was a good play by them. We can’t allow that to happen. They blocked us up relaly good up front, and our safety just missed the tackle and went the distance.”
Callaway’s defense is a mixture of veterans and players who are new to the starting lineup.
Three of the men who have been there before are senior linebackers Michael Freeman, Jibrell Jackson and Travis Traylor, and they helped shut down Northside last week.
Also at the linebacker position, Hubbard said junior Jonathan Leonard stepped up and performed well last week.
“He flew around really good,” Hubbard said. “He played a little bit on special teams last year. Didn’t play a lot of scrimmage downs, but we feel he’s going to play a lot for us this year and be a benefit for us.”
Freeman, the younger brother of current Georgia Tech standout KeShun Freeman, will also play tight end this season, meaning he’ll be a busy man on Friday nights.
“At times, I know I’m going to be tired, and I’m going to be running on fumes, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help my teammates, and help my team,” Freeman said. “And I love it. This is what I do.”
One area where Callaway is breaking in some new players is on the defensive line, although Keegan Woods does return as a starter.
Junior Lichon Terrell was a part-time player a year ago, and now he’ll be counted on to hold down a defensive-end position along with Woods.
“He’s a kid that we feel like has a lot of upside,” Hubbard said of Terrell. “He’s only going to get better, and we’re excited about him.”
Thomas Hodge, who was a linebacker last year, is moving to the defensive line this season, and Jamie Sellers also helped Callaway control things up front against Northside.
Callaway has some experience in the secondary, with Dominic Copeland and Courtney Williams having started at times a year ago.
Kobe Jackson began the season as a starter, but he broke his ankle early on and missed of the year.
“He was a starter in games one and two, but he broke his ankle and didn’t end up coming back until the playoffs,” Hubbard said of Jackson.
In the second half against Northside, the backup players got an opportunity to get on the field, and a lot of players who likely won’t see the field much in the regular season got some game action.
“It gets a lot of anxiety off of those young guys,” Hubbard said. “I think more than anything, it gives them an incentive to work harder in practice, knowing they’ve got a chance to play, and it lifts their morale up a little bit.”
While Dylan Johnson will be Callaway’s punter, Noah Stephens returns as Callaway’s place kicker.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports