Class AA spring football: Callaway prepares for another brutal schedule

The Callaway Cavaliers play in one of Class AA’s toughest regions, 5-AA, as best demonstrated by last year’s state tournament featuring two teams from there — the Cavs and state champions Heard County. The Cavs finished 11-3 behind a dominant tandem of running back Tank Bigsby and tackle Keiondre Jones. 

Bigsby returns as one of the country’s most sought-after recruits, holding more than 30 offers including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and Southern Cal among others, while Jones graduates as a member of Auburn’s ‘19 signing class.

In all, the Cavs lose four offensive starters and nine of defense. Longtime coach Pete Wiggins, who enters his 15th season at Callaway, said his expectations for the 2019 Cavs is to fight its way through a schedule riddled with tough region and non-region opponents.

“We expect to go out and compete at a high level each week,” he said. “Our schedule is competitive and we play schools from higher classifications, which prepares us for the season and the playoffs. Our region is competitive and it’s one that not only has good players, but good coaches. So we have solid opponents all season. As far as an outlook, we’ve got to take care of ourselves and get better each day.”

The road to 2019 success begins on April 29, when the Cavs’ spring practice begins. They’ll spend two weeks installing offense, defense and special teams, get into pads and the spring session will end on May 15 at 6 p.m., when they play Charles Henderson of Troy, Ala., at Troy University.

“It’s a great game and our kids are excited about it,” Wiggins said. 

Though spring practice is the first formal team functions, some players have been participating in a voluntary program Wiggins and his staff started six years ago. It’s an after school strength and conditioning program for players who don’t participate in a spring sport that includes 1.5 hours of agility drills and weightlifting. It starts the first week of January and runs through spring.

“We have good participation,” Wiggins said. “It’s a large group that stays with us each day and our coaches who don’t coach other sports during the spring are always there. It’s been a big part of our success.”

The Cavs are one of the perennial powers of AA. They’ve at least reached the playoffs every year Wiggins has been there, except his first season in 2005, and they reached the semifinals in two of the last three seasons (2018, ‘16), and the quarterfinals in 2017.

For another deep run, they must find players to step in for those who graduated. They lost three starters on the offensive line, all of their defensive linemen, and their leading tackler, linebacker Tely Fanning.

The good news is they bring back their quarterback Demetrius Coleman, a class of ‘21 athlete with four offers including Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and leading receiver Jacob Freeman, who has nine offers (Mississippi State, Oregon, West Virginia, etc.). Tate Johnson (Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State) anchors the line and, of course, the offense will run through Bigsby.

“He’s a very explosive player,” said Wiggins of Bigsby. “He works hard on and off the field and he really grew as a running back as the season went on.”

Wiggins sees the offense being a strength, and he’s hoping the defense can develop enough to hold up its end. Wiggins is high on senior linebacker RJ Williams and junior cornerback Jalin Shephard.

“The players are competing for jobs right now,” Wiggins said.

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