Season getting close for Cavaliers
Published 10:35 am Tuesday, July 23, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s go time.
In what traditionally marks the unofficial start to preseason practice, the Callaway Cavaliers were on the field and in the weight room on Monday afternoon for their annual ironman competition.
The two-day event wraps up on Wednesday, and official preseason practice according begins on Thursday.
The next big day on the Georgia High School Association calendar is Aug. 1, the date teams can begin holding full-contact practices.
Callaway hosts Starr’s Mill on Aug. 16 for its preseason game, and things begin for real the following week with the regular-season opener against Opelika.
This is a busy week for the Cavaliers that includes Thursday’s first official practice.
While the ironman competition is today and Wednesday, Callaway will be at Auburn on Tuesday for an 11-on-11 padded camp.
On Friday, the team’s seniors will be at The Fields for a golf clinic.
“There is a sense of urgency. It’s less than a month until we play Starr’s Mill,” said Pete Wiggins, who is returning for his 15th season as Callaway’s head coach. “All of that kicks in as far as the excitement of starting school, and the first ballgame. Also, we’ve been on the field a lot prior to starting practice. We’ve been on the field almost every day during the week, and we’ve been at camps, we’ve been at competitions. So our kids, they’re prepared for this.”
The ironman competition is a way to measure how much the Callaway players have accomplished during the summer.
The players compete in 10 events designed to measure speed, strength, endurance, jumping ability, and more.
Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, Callaway’s outstanding senior running back, is trying to win the competition for a third straight year.
“We always look forward to that event,” Wiggins said. “It’s always a special two days for us, and we feel like it’s the culmination of all the work we put in. They put in a lot of time. To see the kids competing against each other in 10 events is very special.”
It’ll be more of a low-key event on Friday, with the seniors heading to The Fields for a clinic with Charlie Vincent.
The players will get a chance to swing the clubs and get some time in on the putting green, and they’ll also learn the rules of the sport.
“We started going to The Fields with Mr. Charlie Vincent several years ago,” Wiggins said. “That’s become something that the kids look forward to.
“We’re looking forward to that this Friday. Golf’s a game that kids may play way after football. We want to introduce something new to a lot of the kids, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it. The kids in the past have always had a big time, and we appreciate Mr. Vincent and the work he puts in for our kids.”
The Cavaliers are coming off another exceptional season under Wiggins, who has compiled an impressive record during his 14 years at the helm.
Callaway went 11-3 last season and advanced to the Class AA semifinals before losing a 28-22 heart-breaker to home-standing Rockmart.
It was the third time in six years the Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals, and they were also in the quarterfinals in 2017.
Since 2009, the Cavaliers have won at least one playoff game in every year but one.
Over the past four seasons, the Cavaliers are 45-8, and they’re 9-4 in the playoffs.
Wiggins, who has an overall record of 126-45 since taking over in 2005, said it all comes back to making a commitment to getting better every day.
“It’s always one day at a time,” Wiggins said. “We talk about each rep, and each play. Each play, each rep, is ultimately what makes you a great football player. You have to take advantage of all the opportunities that you have. That’s what we feel like builds the tradition that we have here, and we feel like the kids have done a good job of that through the years.”
The Cavaliers have to replace 26 talented seniors, many of whom will be playing college football this fall.
The cupboard is far from bare, though.
Among Callaway’s returnees is Bigsby, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season and is one of the state’s most highly-recruited players.
Also back is talented junior quarterback Demetrius Coleman, as well as senior wide receivers Jacob Freeman, Jymere Jones, Markus Morman and Antinez Blount.
Callaway lost three starting offensive linemen, including four-year starter Keiondre Jones, while starters Austin Thomas and Tate Johnson return.
Callaway was hit particularly hard by graduation on defense, with only two starters returning, linebacker RJ Williams and defensive back Jalin Shephard.
While there are holes to fill, the high expectations remain at Callaway, which has won at least 10 games all but once since 2012.
“There’s so much that has gone into getting to where we’re at,” Wiggins said. “It’s our coaching staff, it’s the players, it’s the community, it’s our faculty, and administration, and the support that everyone has given us. To see how it’s grown since I’ve been here is really special.”
Wiggins also makes sure to let the seniors know how important it is to enjoy the journey, but it’ll be over soon.
“You talk about with the kids how short it is, and how fast their senior year goes past,” Wiggins said. “I always like to talk to the kids about how fast the time goes by, and to enjoy their teammates, and enjoy the camaraderie we have on the field. There’s so much work that goes into it, and the kids are dedicated.”