Plan comes together for Callaway offense
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Everything has fallen into place for Callaway High’s offense.
There were a few bumps in the road early in the season, but the offense is functioning at a high level now, which is a big reason why Callaway will play for a state championship on Tuesday against Fitzgerald.
Callaway has scored nearly 80 combined points the past two weeks against Thomasville and Rabun County, teams with outstanding defenses.
It’s an offense that can beat defenses in plenty of different ways, with quarterback Demetrius Coleman, running back Charlie Dixon, and wide receiver Jalin Shephard leading the way.
Zach Giddens, Callaway’s first-year offensive coordinator, credits the players for being 100 percent invested in what he and the other coaches are trying to accomplish.
“They’re completely bought in with what we’re doing,” Giddens said. “They’re just a bunch of selfless guys. Our whole offense is. I can’t describe how selfless they really are. They just want to win, and they’ll do whatever they can to help the team be successful. It’s been pretty amazing to see their growth.”
A year ago, Callaway featured a high-powered offense led by running back Tank Bigsby, as well as a group of wide receivers who put up huge numbers.
The man who led that offense was Matt Napier, who left following the 2019 season to become the head coach at LaGrange High.
Pete Wiggins, Callaway’s head coach since 2005, brought in Giddens to be the new offensive coordinator.
Giddens was tasked with leading an offense that lost many of its key players from a year ago, including Bigsby, the top four wide receivers, and two offensive linemen that signed college scholarships.
Giddens also had to deal with the complications created by Covid-19. There was no spring practice, and a lot of the usual activities the Cavaliers participate in during the summer were canceled as well.
Nonetheless, the Cavaliers are averaging close to 30 points per game, and the offense has been rolling up and down the field during the playoffs.
“Each offense is going to look a lot different,” Giddens said. “Every year you get new personnel, new kids in. It’s one of those things where you have to find what are our kids really good at? What kids do we need to get out there, and what kids can do what? I think they’ve all done a great job of doing what they’re coached to do, and buying in and staying the course.”
Wiggins gives a lot of credit to Giddens for helping guide the offense during a challenging season.
“To see Zach grow throughout the season has been very special,” Wiggins said. “He came in with a lot of weight on his shoulders. We lost a lot of talent from our team last year. He’s done a great job, and I’m really proud of the successes that we’ve had on the offensive side.”
It helps that Callaway has a talented and experienced player at quarterback in Coleman, who is about to start his 12th playoff game.
Beyond the stats, Coleman provides invaluable leadership as well as a calm and collected presence during tense moments.
“He’s got it all,” Giddens said. “He’s a great leader, and his teammates follow him. He can manage the game, he can make plays with his arm, he can run. He’s smart. He’s experienced.”
Coleman has completed 83-of-161 passes for 1,164 yards with 14 touchdowns this season, and he has also run for 400 yards on 75 attempts with three touchdowns.
In last week’s semifinal win over Rabun County, Coleman ran for 112 yards on seven carries with a touchdown, and it was his most effective rushing game of the season.
“Early in the year, we wanted to be careful and not run him too much, because he’s such an asset,” Giddens said. “Now there’s nothing to lose. If we can use him and him be even more of a threat this year, why not?”
Coleman’s favorite target in the passing game is Shephard, a dynamic play-maker who has 24 receptions for 505 yards with nine touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns came in the closing seconds of a dramatic 16-14 road win over Thomas County Central.
On a second-down play, Coleman found Shephard for a 10-yard touchdown, giving Callaway the thrilling win.
For Coleman and Shephard, that was nothing new.
The two have been playing football together for years, long before they became teammates at Callaway.
“I have a lot of confidence in Demetrius,” Shephard said after that game. “I’ve been playing with Demetrius since I was 4. That’s just routine for us. We’ve been doing that forever.”
Shephard averages 21 yards per catch, and more than one-third of his receptions have gone for touchdowns.
Junior Carlos Billingslea has stepped up and contributed 20 catches for 224 yards with two touchdowns, and Andrew Locke has five receptions for 55 yards with a touchdown.
Callaway tight ends Sam Williams and Keshawn Suggs have been keys in the passing game as well, and they each had long catches last week.
Williams had a 49-yard touchdown catch, and Suggs made an acrobatic 44-yard reception when he kept the ball alive with his foot.
The focal point of the offense during the playoffs has been Dixon, who has been unstoppable.
In three playoff games, Dixon has 535 yards on 72 carries, and he has eight touchdowns.
Dixon has the power to run over defenders, and the speed to leave them behind.
He showed off both traits on long scoring runs the past two weeks.
Dixon had a 97-yard touchdown run against Thomasville, and his 76-yard scoring run gave Callaway a 41-10 lead in the third quarter against Rabun County.
For the season, Dixon has 1,233 yards on 189 carries and 19 touchdowns.
LaQuize Gilbert, the leading tackler on defense, has provided a change of pace at running back with 243 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns.
Paving the way for the offensive success is a line that has been a strength of the team since day one.
The starters are Lathan Patterson, Kamez Hopson, Adarian Barnes, Jacob Miles and Nate Lee, and fullback Amarion Copeland has also done a stellar job blocking, as have Williams and Suggs at tight end.
“The offensive line doesn’t get enough credit,” Giddens said. “They are playing their tails off. They’re really coachable. I find myself hanging out and being around those guys more than anything, just because they are such an integral part of the offense.”
Giddens has gotten to know all of the players well since he arrived at the school earlier this year, and considering everything they’ve gone through and the challenges they’ve overcome, he’s thrilled to see them get the chance to play for a title.
“I’m so proud for them,” Giddens said. “It makes me emotional thinking about it.”