Receivers shine for Cavaliers
Published 1:51 am Friday, November 29, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It didn’t take long for Dialleo Burks to realize he had a gifted group to work with.
Burks, the former head coach at LaGrange High, was hired as Callaway’s wide-receivers coach during the summer, and he began working with his new players shortly before the start of preseason camp.
“I knew they were going to be a special group,” Burks said. “They love to be challenged. They’re competitors.”
Burks, who was a wide receiver in professional football for a decade, set out to challenge the receivers, and work closely with them to help them develop into the best players they could be.
“There was a level that I thought they could get to, and they have,” Burks said.
With junior quarterback Demetrius Coleman pulling the trigger, the Cavaliers have one of the state’s most dynamic and explosive passing attacks.
Coleman has been spreading the wealth, getting all of Callaway’s talented receivers involved.
Callaway’s top five receivers have combined for 90 catches for more than 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Jacob Freeman and Antinez Blount have been Coleman’s favorite targets, and they’ve both had remarkable seasons.
Blount is tops on the team with 29 catches for 692 yards with six touchdowns, and Freeman has 28 receptions for 770 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Next is Jymere Jones with 15 catches for 374 yards and four touchdowns, and Markus Morman has 10 receptions for 241 yards and four touchdowns.
Jalin Shephard, who is also Callaway’s top defensive back, has eight catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’re versatile,” Blount said. “There’s nobody you can key on. You stop one person, somebody else is going to get you.”
This level of success doesn’t happen by accident, and Burks appreciates the willingness of the receivers to be coached hard.
“They embrace that tough love,” Burks said. “They said you’ve been there (in college football and the pros), and we want to get there to. Be careful of what you ask for, because I’m going to be tough on you. And they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do. I love it.”
The man who has overseen Callaway’s high-powered offense that scores more than 40 points per game is offensive coordinator Matt Napier.
Napier has always had talented receivers at Callaway, from Quantavius Leslie, to Terry Godwin, to Braylon Sanders.
Never before, though, has Napier had this many receivers to call plays for.
“It’s a special group, the way that Demetrius is able to have weapons all over the field to throw it to,” Napier said. “Anyone of those guys is good enough to win in any coverage, and he does a good job of making sure each guy gets a fair opportunity, and of reading the defense and understanding what they’re giving him. He’s special at finding the guys.”
Napier added that all of the receivers do what’s necessary to succeed.
“They’re here every day,” Napier said. “When we open the door they’re here. They’re gym rats. They don’t miss, and they take a lot of pride in it. It’s a special group of dynamic players.”
A year ago, Freeman began the season at quarterback, and he remained in that position until the final week of the regular season when Coleman took over.
Freeman instantly became Coleman’s favorite target, and they helped Callaway advance to the Class AA semifinals.
This season, as Coleman has developed into an elite quarterback, Freeman has continued to make plays.
Freeman has a remarkable average of 27.5 yards per catch, and more than one-third of his receptions have gone for touchdowns.
Freeman had three touchdowns catches against Chattooga in the opening round of the playoffs, and he had a 70-yard scoring catch last week against Fitzgerald.
Freeman also has a 98-yard touchdown catch this season.
The breakout player among the receivers is Blount, who has been getting it done since the opening game against Opelika when his long catch in the fourth quarter set up Callaway’s lone touchdown.
Blount’s 29 catches are the most on the team, and he averages 23.9 yards every time he gets his hands on the ball.
Two of Blount’s six touchdowns came in the opening round against Chattooga.
This has easily been Blount’s finest season as a high-school player, and Burks said it’s been a matter of a player making the most of his chance.
“Opportunity breeds a lot of that,” Burks said. “You’re in that position where it’s your time, and that’s what Antinez embraced. Now he said it’s my time.”
Blount, who is also a basketball and track-and-field standout at Callaway, knew his time would come, and he was patient.
“I was never selfish,” Blount said. “Everybody’s time is going to come. If you work hard, you’re time’s going to come.”
Another senior who has had his best season is Jones, who along with Shephard is a starter on defense.
Jones averages 25 yards per catch, and he has four touchdowns.
Like each of the receivers, Jones takes tremendous satisfaction when one of his fellow receivers finds the end zone.
“I love when I see my brothers scoring, because it’s just like me scoring,” Jones said. “When my brothers shine, that just gets me excited to see them shine. I love to see the whole group shine.”
Callaway’s offense isn’t just about the passing game.
Callaway has one of the state’s top running backs in Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, who has had another extraordinary season.
Bigsby, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season, has 1,1195 yards on 97 carries with 21 touchdowns this year.
Bigsby missed significant time with an ankle injury earlier in the season, but he’s at 100 percent and running strong now.
Last week against Fitzgerald, Bigsby ran for 151 yards on 16 attempts with three touchdowns, and he also had a 60-yard scoring catch on a hook-and-ladder play right before the half.
“He played tonight with a different kind of edge,” Napier said after that game. “He’s always been really, really good, but tonight he was possessed. He was wanting the team to win, and he was going to do anything he could to make sure it happened.”
The idea coming into the season was to have a balanced offense, and clearly the Cavaliers have achieved that goal.
“If you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to have balance,” Napier said. “At some point somebody’s going to be able to stop the run.”
It helps that Callaway has a truly elite quarterback in Coleman, who has been spectacular.
Coleman has completed 108-of-181 passes for 2,388 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he’s only thrown five interceptions.
On a lot of plays Coleman has the option of running or passing, and he always seems to make the right decision.
“We’ve have a run play called, and the defense will give us a certain look, and he can check into a good play,” Napier said.
When Coleman does throw, the ball is inevitably right on target.
“The big deal is throwing the ball on time, throwing the ball before the break, and Demetrius has done a really good job of that,” Napier said. “He’s special.”
Callaway’s unstoppable offense is a big reason why the team is 11-1 and three victories away from a state championship.
The Cavaliers have played in some awful weather conditions this season, including the opening round of the playoffs when it rained throughout, but it hasn’t slowed them a bit.
Even when it’s been raining heavily, Coleman has continued to successfully throw the ball around the field.
“When you know what you’re trying to get to, none of that matters,” Coleman said. “You’re trying to get that state (title), so none of it matters. You do whatever to get there.”