Class AAAA blog: Championship expectations re-emerge at Sandy Creek

The Sandy Creek Patriots have been one of the most competitive programs in the state of Georgia over the last two decades. Their list of accomplishments includes 15-straight playoff appearances (2002-16), a span of six-straight region titles (2008-13) and three state titles (2009-10, 2012). Longtime Sandy Creek coach Brett Garvin has been on the sidelines to experience the entirety of this success. 

Following his 16 seasons spent as an assistant coach, Garvin was promoted in 2017 to replace current Newnan head coach Chip Walker—who led Sandy Creek to a 127-26-1 record in his 12 seasons at the helm. Rather than the same top-level dominance many had grown accustomed to seeing at the school, however, the 2017 Patriots went an underwhelming 5-5 and finished the regular season as playoff outsiders for the first time since 2001. They improved to 7-4 this past season, but were ousted in the first round by North Oconee 28-7. 

On the surface, it may appear that Sandy Creek’s dominance has waned in recent years. Perhaps it has. But with a closer examination, there is something else that becomes evident—Garvin, his staff and the Patriots have been following a premeditated path that could lead Sandy Creek to a serious run at the state title in 2019.    

“I knew when I took over we were going to be an extremely young football team,” said Garvin. “We played a bunch of freshmen and sophomores my first year when we went 5-5 and I said ‘we are just going to bite the bullet and give these guys some experience to grow from’. And they played okay. Then last year they were all sophomores and juniors and they were much better. So this year, we’ll have primarily juniors and seniors and I’m pretty excited. You still have to go and play the games and everybody else has kids coming back too, so it’s not like we’re the only ones, but I’m excited.”

Sandy Creek resides in an ultra-competitive Region 5-AAAA with Cartersville, Troup, Chapel Hill, Cedartown, LaGrange and Central-Carroll. While the competition isn’t getting any easier in Region 5-AAAA, the experience Sandy Creek gained over the past two seasons while facing the competition head on with a unit of emergent underclassmen could prove to be the difference maker. 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Speed has always been a staple of Sandy Creek football and this year’s team will be no exception. 

“The biggest strength this year is probably going to be the secondary,” said Garvin. “There will be four seniors back there in the secondary and all four of them have offers. They are pretty athletic, all four of them are about 6-foot, 185 pounds, so they will definitely be the strength in experience as well. We are pretty fast as a unit defensively and also offensively. We’re returning two very good wideouts, our running backs, our quarterback and four or five offensive and defensive lineman.”

The quarterback position experienced an atypical battle last season as senior Jamal Lewis and junior Matthew Williams went back and forth in what turned out to be a year-long competition. 

“That wasn’t the plan last year. The plan was through the spring, through the summer, but then neither of you have really distinguished yourself to be the guy so here’s what we’ll do to start it out,” explained Garvin. “We took the NCAA QBR system and started punching in their numbers from practice and the games and whoever pulled ahead, it was going to be their job. And well, neither one ever did. I think Matthew may have had a few more yards than Jamal, but nobody was just pulling away and taking it. So that never was the intention. The intention was just that we were going to give both of them a fair shot at winning it. With Jamal being gone now, we’ll probably get a young guy in the competition, but it will probably be Matthew’s turn as a senior, and he’s done a really great job so far. After the basketball season ended, he really stepped up by organizing throwing sessions with the receivers and doing those kind of things. I think he is really ready to take the reins and roll with it.”

At running back, Rashad Amos is returning after putting up 939 yards and 12 touchdowns his junior season. The 6-foot, 210-pound back scored nine of his touchdowns in Sandy Creek’s five non-region games, but only found the end zone three times against region opponents. Improvements across the board in the weight room should result in Amos and the Patriots’ running game having better production against Region 5-AAAA’s top defenses this season.  

“We’ve gotten a lot stronger and hopefully we are going to see the benefit of that,” said Garvin. “Just in terms of confidence it is big. Sometimes when kids are stronger and they get out there and people can’t push them around, it is as much mental as anything.”

Garvin is also working on ways to make sure his team is able to take better advantage of scoring opportunities in 2019.  

“That’s one thing that I have talked to my offensive coordinator about,” said Garvin. “We need to be more productive when we get from the 30-yard-line in. That Cartersville game is a great example. That was a battle that night... now that was a football game. They score with about 3:18 left to go up 7-0. We get the ball and we go right back down the field. We got the ball at the 25-yard-line and we are trying to snap it and throw it in the end zone, but we waited too long and Cartersville was able to run two guys over to cover the guy we were throwing it to and they ended up picking us off with 20 seconds left to seal the game. We just didn’t capitalize on getting down there and getting on the line quickly enough and they did. They capitalized when they got inside our 25 and we didn’t when we got inside theirs. I think you just have to do those things, and at the end of the day, that’s what great teams do; score when you are supposed to score. And if you get a turnover, you try to get points out of that turnover. Those kinds of things, the great teams tend to do. I think we are going to do a better job with that this year.”

Playing the 2018 state finalist Canes so closely this past season (7-0) is a promising sign for Sandy Creek in 2019. There will also be historic implications surrounding the matchup when these teams square off in region action this year--Sandy Creek is 0-6 all-time against Cartersville. 

Troup and super athlete Kobe Hudson will be another familiar challenge for this year’s Sandy Creek team. In 2017, Hudson caught six passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns as Troup torched the Patriots 71-16. It was the most points allowed in school history. In 2018, the Auburn-commit switched from receiver to a dual-threat quarterback and went 7-of-16 for 136 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions through the air, while rushing for 251 yards and a score off 17 carries to pace Troup to a 35-21 win. This year’s Sandy Creek vs. Troup showdown will be one of Class AAAA’s most intriguing regular season matchups.

WHY NOT US?

Sandy Creek will open its Spring Practice on May 6. The Patriots will go Monday-Friday for back-to-back weeks with a home scrimmage against East Coweta marking the conclusion of spring ball on May 17. The current school year has already seen waves of excitement building with Sandy Creek’s athletic department experiencing high rates of success across the various sports disciplines. Garvin, however, is ready to aim even higher in 2019-20. 

“I’m the football coach at the end of the day,” said Garvin. “But I tell all our coaches this. I want to get to a point, because I know it’s never been done before by any school in the state, I want every sport we’ve got to win it all in the same year. That’s the goal. Why shoot for anything less than that? I want football to win it, volleyball to win it, both basketball teams to win it, cross country to win it, swimming to win it, track to win it, baseball, softball and soccer. I want everybody here, every single sport to win a state championship next year. Just because it’s never been done before and I think it would be a pretty neat thing for us to be able to hang our hats on. The real side of me, it is tough to do, but why not let that be our goal?”

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