Champion Cavaliers celebrate signing day
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a championship season for the Callaway Cavaliers.
After so many close calls over the years, Callaway broke through and won its first state championship in 2020, and a committed and gifted group of seniors led the way.
Last week during a ceremony in the Callaway High gymnasium, nine seniors on that team signed their letters of intent to play football on the college level.
It’s a senior class that exits the stage having won a state title while making it to the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019.
“Often around these parts we have guys come back, our senior classes come back, and they get into a debate about which senior class was the best class,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “Guys, hands down, you’ve got the hardware. When they come back and ask, you guys got it. What a great group of guys.”
Among Callaway’s signees is quarterback Demetrius Coleman, a three-year starter who was a foundation of last year’s championship team.
Coleman, a three-year starter, has signed with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Charlie Dixon, Callaway’s outstanding running back, signed with North Carolina AT&T, while defensive back and wide receiver Jalin Shephard signed with the University of West Georgia.
Two Cavaliers, linebacker Austin Thomas and wide receiver Taylor Smith, are staying in Troup County to join the LaGrange College football team.
Long snapper Eli Freeman and defensive back Osiris Rivas signed with Blinn College in Texas, and defensive lineman and tight end Keshawn Suggs is staying in Georgia after signing with Reinhardt University.
Also remaining in Georgia is linebacker LaQuize Gilbert, who signed with Georgia Military College.
Another Cavalier, offensive lineman Lathan Patterson, will sign his letter of intent at a later date.
“Family is such an important thing in life. Everyone can agree that at Callaway High School we’re one big family,” said Callaway recruiting coordinator Andrew Caraway. “This season, there’s no question we faced adversity like we’ve never seen before with this pandemic. It made you wonder if we’d even have a football season. This group of seniors faced those challenges head on, and they overcame them each and every day, ultimately leading to the first state championship in school history.”
The man who so calmly and capably directed the offense from the quarterback position is Demetrius Coleman, who finished his career with a 10-2 playoff record.
Coleman will play his college football at Chattanooga, a place he said “felt like home.”
“They kept it real from day one,” Coleman said. “They’re giving me an opportunity to play. I just feel like I’ll be successful there.”
Coleman has grown close to his fellow seniors, and he said it “means a lot” to be able to share his big day with them.
“We came into high school together, and we were in middle school together, and we grinded all those years, and we finally reached the ultimate goal, and now we’re living our dream,” Coleman said. “I know they’ll do great things.”
Coleman spent a lot of time handing the ball off to running back Charlie Dixon, who ran for more than 700 yards in four playoff games.
Dixon, who had plenty of college options, decided North Carolina AT&T was the right fit.
“I wanted to attend an HBCU (historically black college and universities),” Dixon said. “I went and I just felt at home. It felt like family.”
After visiting the campus, Dixon said “It was a warm feeling in
my heart, and I knew it was the right place for me.”
As for his signing day, Dixon said “this is a day we’ll never forget. It’s a good memory to have in our hearts.”
LaQuize Gilbert, a standout linebaker who led the Cavaliers in tackles, said “I’m glad that we’ll all get a chance to go off, and play somewhere that wants us. I’m just so happy for me and my teammates and my brothers. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
As for deciding to attend Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Gilbert said “I really just tried to stay closer to home. I chose my best interest, to see where I could play ball.”
Jalin Shephard was one of the state’s best and most versatile players, and he made an impact as a wide receiver, defensive back and punter.
Shephard, who was the Class AA defensive player of the year according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, will play for West Georgia, an NCAA Division II program in Carrollton.
“I want to thank God, because without him none of this would be possible,” Shephard said. “Second I want to thank my friends and family for pushing me.”
Keshawn Suggs, who was an impact performer as a defensive lineman and a tight end, is also remaining in Georgia to play football at Reinhardt.
“I want to thank my coaches, my teachers, my family,” Suggs said. “They pushed me to get to this moment. Without them, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”
Defensive back Osiris Rivas and long snapper Eli Freeman are both going to Texas to join the football program at Blinn College.
Rivas was a part of a ball-hawking group of defensive backs, and he had multiple interceptions during the state playoffs.
“It’s so much work and heart put into this, not only for myself, but for all my teammates,” Rivas said. “For it to pay off and for us to get to go to college, and continue to keep playing for free, it’s great feeling in the world, not just for me, but for everyone involved.”
Rivas and Freeman will both be attending a two-year school, meaning they’ll be able to transfer to a four-year school down the road.
“I’m going there because recruiting was so messed up this year, and I think for a year I can go in and get out and go somewhere big,” Rivas said.
Taylor Smith and l Austin Thomas will get to keep playing at Callaway Stadium after they agreed to join the football family at LaGrange College.
Smith, who was a valuable member of Callaway’s wide-receiver corps, said “I want to take this opportunity to thank God, my family, my coaches, my teammates,” Smith said. “They’ve always pushed me to be the greatest person and athlete I can be. Without them, none of this would be possible.”
Thomas, a linebacker, missed time late in the season with a knee injury, but he returned for the semifinal game against Rabun County, and the championship game against Fitzgerald.
Thomas worked closely with trainer Brooke Jackson to get back on the field, and he was an effective player against Rabun County and Fitzgerald. Thomas began his high-school career as an offensive lineman before moving to defense.
“Throughout AT’s career, he’s always been a competitor,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins. “He’s a three-year starter for us, playing offensive line and inside linebacker. It was a tough situation with an injury at practice, and to see him trot back on the field was very special. It’s a great motivator for our team.”
Austin Thomas – LaGrange College
Eli Freeman – Blinn College
Osiris Rivas – Blinn College
Keshawn Suggs – Reinhardt University
LaQuize Gilbert – Georgia Military College
Taylor Smith – LaGrange College
Jalin Shephard – West Georgia
Charlie Dixon – North Carolina AT&T
Demetrius Coleman – Chattanooga