Grangers take field for spring game
By Kevin Eckleberry
MANCHESTER – The new-look LaGrange Grangers shared the field with the Manchester Blue Devils on Friday night as the two teams locked horns in a spring game.
The home-standing Blue Devils scored a pair of first-half touchdowns to take the lead, and they went on to claim a 14-0 victory after a scoreless second half.
It was an important night for the Grangers, who not only have a bunch of new players on the field, but a handful of different faces on the sideline as well.
While head coach Dialleo Burks is back for his fourth season, he’s joined by a number of new coaches, including offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Frank Caputo.
“I wanted the guys to come in and have fun,” Burks said. “After a 2-8 year, that’s tough to wear the whole offseason. I wanted them to come in and have fun, I wanted them to fly around with an attitude on defense. Offensively, I wanted them to execute, and that’s it. Limit the mistakes. That’s all we were looking for.”
Burks is having to replace a big group of seniors, 13 of whom will be playing college football next season, including all-state quarterback LaPerion Perry who will be at the University of West Georgia.
With so many holes to fill, Burks was eager to see his men in action against another team.
“We’re looking to put guys in spots,” Burks said. “We want to win, but we’re looking to mold this thing together, so that was the primary focus.”
While LaGrange is looking to turn things around, Manchester is seeking to build on a strong 2016 season.
The Blue Devils went 10-2 last year and reached the second round of the state playoffs, and most of the players responsible for that success have returned.
Deenizeo Gamble ran for more than 100 yards and had a touchdown, and Tylan Hollis also had a scoring run for the Blue Devils.
While the Grangers had limited offensive success, they did put something together on their final possession of the night with soon-to-be freshman Marquavious Kelley at quarterback.
Kelley, Cornell Kendrick, Andre Canty and Jorno Huzzie each had first-down runs, and time ran out with LaGrange deep in Manchester territory.
Kendrick, along with wide receivers Bo Russell and Jamari Thrash, are three of the most experienced players on offense.
A handful of different players saw time at quarterback, including Kelley and Jakoby Smith, who saw some playing time a year ago while Perry was recovering from an injury.
The man who could end up starting at quarterback, current freshman Charles Crawford, is busy playing baseball for the LaGrange team that’ll face Marist in the state semifinals, so he was unavailable Friday night.
Burks felt the defensive effort was better as the night went along, and he was particularly pleased with the performance of the backup players.
“We were sluggish in a lot of spots,” Burks said. “We got pushed around a little bit. We didn’t play with an attitude I thought we should play with. Toward the end of the third, we started picking it up a little bit. Then once we got the twos in, the subs, it exploded. They were having fun and running around.”
While Friday gave Burks a chance to get a look at his player in action, it also afforded him an opportunity to continue to get to know his new coaches.
“I’m learning the staff,” Burks said. “How we act in certain situations, our mentality. We’re still learning all of that.”
The Grangers have one day of spring practice remaining, and Burks said that will be used to review film.
Next week, the eighth-grade football players from Gardner Newman Middle School will be coming to Granger Park for a week of spring practice so the coaches can get to know them, and vice versa.
“Next week, we’ll have the eighth grade over,” Burks said. “We’ll have them for the whole week, getting them acclimated. And we had a couple out here tonight that showed some promise.”
After that, the Grangers will begin their summer program, and it’ll be a busy time.
There will be daily workouts at the school, some of the players will participate in position camps, and there will also be seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 competitions.
On June 20, LaGrange will host Manchester for a full-contact, 11-on-11 competition.
Preseason practice begins on July 25, and LaGrange will open its season on Aug. 18 against Callaway.
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