Cavs hitting it hard in practice

Published 6:46 pm Friday, July 28, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – The work continues.

The Callaway Cavaliers, who are looking to build on the best season in school history, are putting the finishing touches on their first week of preseason practice.

Callaway has been on the field every afternoon this week, practicing for about two hours a day in the July heat and humidity.

While the Cavaliers have been working hard since January when the offseason strength and conditioning program got under way, head coach Pete Wiggins said there is always a different feel when official preseason practice gets started.

“We get to this time of year, and to see that enthusiasm, it makes you look forward to Friday night,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said this week is all about “trying to establish our tempo in practice, so everybody has an understanding of where they need to be. We want to practice fast, and get as many reps as we can, and prepare for pads on Aug. 1.”

For the first full week of practice, teams aren’t permitted to hold full-contact practices.

Callaway, and the rest of the teams in the state, can begin holding contact drills on Tuesday.

“We’ve had a good attitude, I think that our intensity has been high,” Wiggins said. “We’ve gotten a lot of reps with offense, defense and special teams, so I feel good about it.”

Callaway and Northside-Columbus will get together for a preseason game in Hogansville on Aug. 10.

Callaway opens the regular season on Aug. 18 against LaGrange.

Callaway beat LaGrange a year ago, jump-starting a special season.

The Cavaliers went 13-1, won a region championship, and advanced to the Class AA final four before losing to a Benedictine team that went on to win a state title.

Along the way, Wiggins won his 100th game since becoming Callaway’s head coach in 2005.

Gone are nine seniors who were so instrumental to the success of last year’s team, but the cupboard is far from empty.

At every position on the field, Callaway has a player being recruited by numerous college programs.

While the names on the roster have changed over the years, the expectations remain the same.

The Cavaliers haven’t won fewer than seven games in a season since 2006, and they’ve reached double digits in victories six times since 2008.

Twice in the past four years Callaway has made it to the final four, and it has won at least one playoff game in eight of the previous nine years.

Last year, Callaway set a school record for wins in a season while making a return trip to the final four.

“The tradition has been set here, and over the years it’s very special,” Wiggins said.

As talented as the Cavaliers are, the holes that need to be filled are not insignificant ones.

Among the seniors who were lost are quarterback Dylan Johnson and wide receiver Braylon Sanders, who teamed up for arguably the biggest play in school history.

In the closing moments of a quarterfinal game against Screven County, Johnson threw a fourth-down pass to Sanders for a game-winning 47-yard touchdown.

Life goes on, though, and the Cavaliers appear well-positioned to enjoy another special season.

It helps to have four of five starting offensive linemen returning, including junior Keiondre Jones, who has college programs from coast to coast pursuing him.

Returning starters Lawrence Thompson, Jalen Moss and John Curtis are also returning.

“It’s a good group,” said Wiggins, who coaches the offensive linemen. “They’re tough, and they’re smart, and they play physical football.”

Those linemen helped DJ Atkins run for 2,166 yards and score 14 touchdowns, and Cartavious Bigsby had 301 yards with three touchdowns.

Another big loss is fullback Jibrell Jackson, who scored seven touchdowns a year ago while providing some bruising blocks. Travis Traylor and Gabriel Moultrie will take Jackson’s place at fullback.

The leading returning wide receiver is DQ Wilkerson, who had 13 catches for 288 yards with a pair of touchdowns, including one in the Screven County game.

At quarterback, Kedrick Ramsey has been working with the first team in preseason practice, but that’s hardly a settled position.

Senior Chandler Lott, as well as freshman Demetrius Coleman, have been working at quarterback.

“From an offensive standpoint, we’ve got several guys back,” Wiggins said. “But we do have some holes to fill.”

Callaway also had some key men to replace on defense, including leading tackler Michael Freeman, who is now a freshman at Mercer.

Seven of Callaway’s 10 leading tacklers are back, though, including linebackers Jonathan Leonard and Qua Hines, who had 109 and 83 tackles, respectively.

Also back is defensive lineman Lichon Terrell, who had 66 tackles, including 18 for loss.

Defensive backs Kobe Jackson and Courtney Williams, who had a combined six interceptions, are also back.

Callaway also has a seasoned kicker in Noah Stephens, who was 50-of-53 on extra points last season.

“It’s always good to have security in the kicking game,” Wiggins said.

The Cavaliers head into the season ranked as high as third in one Class AA poll, and they have four men who are a part of a preseason all-state team.

Over the past two seasons, the Cavaliers are 25-3, and they’ve won 10 or more games four times since 2012.

Unless a team wins a state title, though, there is always room for improvement, and senior defensive lineman Lichon Terrell said the goal is to do even better this year.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Terrell said. “Last year, we had a group of wonderful seniors, and we went 13-1. So we’ve got a lot of weight on our shoulders to continue that, to try to do better.”