Seniors lead the way for Cavaliers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
In 2017, the Callaway Cavaliers were coming off the finest season in the history of the program.
Callaway went 13-1 in 2016, and its season ended with a loss to eventual state-champion Benedictine in the state semifinals.
Flash forward a year, and a group of incoming freshmen arrived at Callaway, eager to put their imprint on the program and help keep the good times rolling.
Those men who were freshmen in 2017 are now seniors, and they have helped the Cavaliers continue to prosper.
Callaway has reached the semifinals of the state playoffs for the third consecutive season, and it will play Rabun County on Friday night with a berth in the state-championship game on the line.
Leading the way are a group of seniors who have seen it all over the years, and have been a part of a lot of success.
Since the start of the 2017 season, the Cavaliers are 44-8, and they’ve won two region championships and have an 11-3 record in the state playoffs.
While none of the current seniors played when they freshmen, a handful of them were starters in 2018 when Callaway made it to the state semifinals.
As juniors in 2019, those players helped Callaway enjoy a memorable season that ended in the state semifinals, and now as seniors they’re in the midst of another phenomenal season, and the ending has yet to be written.
One of the 17 seniors on the team, linebacker LaQuize Gilbert, said it’s been “so much fun” to be a member of the Callaway football family since 2017.
“These guys, we’ve been through a lot,” added Gilbert, who had 20 tackles in last week’s playoff win over Thomasville. “We’ve had a lot of adversity, and I’m grateful that I got to play at Callaway with them. They’re my brothers.”
This season has been a challenging one for the Cavaliers with everything that has gone on because of Covid-19, and during the summer there was no guarantee there would even be a season.
“We didn’t know if we’d be able to play, and now making it this far, we want it even more,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert and the other seniors have been through the pressure-cooker of playoff football so many times.
They’ve won a lot, but they’ve also been a part of some painful losses, most notably in the state semifinals the past two seasons.
While experience doesn’t guarantee success, it does help the players keep a level head during those pressurized moments when games are decided.
“We’ve seen it all,” said senior Charlie Dixon, who ran for 237 yards with three touchdowns last week against Thomasville. “We don’t lose our focus in those kind of moments. We’ve been here. We know what to do. We know how to handle any situation.”
The seniors are a close-knit group, and that allows them to be honest with each other, to offer constructive criticism when it’s needed.
“I believe it’s easy to talk to each other because we’re like brothers,” said senior linebacker Austin Thomas, a three-year starter.” “When we have problems with anything, it’s easier to ask questions and fix ourselves, and not feel like we’re blaming each other. We take criticism well. I like that.”
The senior class also includes wide receiver and defensive back Jalin Shephard and quarterback Demetrius Coleman, who have both been starting since they were sophomores.
Shephard has been one of Callaway’s most valuable players this season, leading the team with 24 catches and nine touchdowns, and he’s also an elite defender who had two interceptions the past two games.
Coleman is set to start his 11th playoff game, and he provides stability and experience at arguably the most important position on the field.
Lathan Patterson has been a key player this season as a starter on the offensive and defensive lines, and defensive back Osiris Rivas had two interceptions against Thomasville.
Keshawn Suggs is the starting tight end and an impact player on the defensive line, and linebacker LaDarrious Williams had an interception return for a touchdown against Thomasville.
Caden Prather is a starter and an anchor on the defensive line, while Chauncey Bradford (defensive line), Juarez Patterson (defensive line), Eli Freeman (linebacker), Tyler Battle (defensive line), Marvize Moss (defensive back), Matthew Martin (linebacker) and Taylor Smith (wide receiver) have done their parts as well.
“In their four-year careers, they’ve seen a lot of good players, and they’ve been in a lot of big games with tough situations, and games that came down to the end where we had to make plays maybe from an offensive standpoint, or a defensive standpoint, or even special teams,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said of the seniors. “They’ve seen and felt that kind of pressure many times. Hopefully that has prepared them for the kind of game we’re going to have tomorrow night with Rabun County. It’s a really talented football team. They’ve got great players. They’ve been in similar experiences that we have, so it should be a great matchup.”
SENIORS: LaDarrious Williams, Taylor Smith, Demetrius Coleman, Juarez Patterson, Keshawn Suggs, Lathan Patterson, Austin Thomas, Chauncey Bradford, Eli Freeman, LaQuize Gilbert, Charlie Dixon, Osiris Rivas, Jalin Shephard, Tyler Battle, Marvize Moss, Matthew Martin and Caden Prather