A little football talk to help you through the summer

ELCA is ELCA, even in the spring
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy won its third consecutive Class A Private state title last season, capping one of the most dominant campaigns in state history. How dominant? In four post season games – three of which were played against teams ranked Nos. 8, 5 and 2 in the AJC Top 10 poll – the Chargers outscored their opponents 205-3, with three shutouts.

Because of the program’s depth, ELCA is one of the few Class A schools that plays a spring game, and they chose to play neighboring Stockbridge – a Class AAAAA program that has won five of the last six region titles and advanced to at least the state quarterfinals for six consecutive seasons. 

Last month the Chargers won the scrimmage against Stockbridge 20-7. Rising senior Justin Menard had 160 yards of total offense, including a 60-yard run and a 65-yard touchdown reception. Fellow seniors kicker Austin Reed (two field goals) and linebacker Johnathan Youngblood (eight tackles) had big games as well, according to head coach Johnathan Gess. 

ELCA was ranked No. 1 in the AJC pre-season poll last season and will most likely be ranked that way again when the first poll is announced in August. 

Vandagriff Rising Up Recruiting Boards

Even though he played mostly as a back up during mop up duty, Prince Avenue Christian sophomore QB Brock Vandagriff has offers from UGA, Auburn, Michigan, Miami, North Carolina and Duke, with more on the way.

The son of Wolverine head coach Greg Vandagriff played receiver last season as a freshman, backing up senior Grant Roland, who will play at NAIA Grand View University (IA) in the fall.  But he proved to be a clutch receiver and in limited opportunities in games last season and on the college camp circuit, Vandagriff has turned heads in a major way, and may end up being the state’s top QB prospect for the class of 2021.

Charlton County is Back
After missing the post season in 2015 and 2016, Charlton County advanced to the state quarterfinals last season. Charlton served notice that more success could be in store this coming season as the Indians downed Class AAAAAAA Camden County, 7-6 in a scrimmage to close out spring practice last. 

Irwin County Looking for a Breakthrough
Irwin County head coach Buddy Nobles has had one of the best four-year beginnings to a head coaching career in state history. Nobles has led the Indians to three region titles and three Class A Public finals. 

But that elusive state championship has eluded Nobles and Irwin. Last season, after defeating Clinch County in the regular season, 21-7, Irwin lost to Clinch in the title game 21-12. What made the defeat even harder to take was the fact that the Indians, down 14-12 late in the third quarter, had the go-ahead touchdown called back due to a penalty.

“The first game, we got a couple of lucky bounces,” Nobles said. “The second game we didn’t. We didn’t capitalize on a couple of turnovers and a couple of calls went against us. But give Clinch credit. They made plays when they had to.”

Once again, Nobles had to figure out what to say to a group of young men who just lost a state title game.

“The thing is, you can’t say you’ll get ‘em next week, because there is no next week,” Nobles said. “It’s like, what can you say?”

One thing he did not say to this group, which will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense in August, was to forget about the game. In fact, he reminded them about it all spring and he will continue to do so over the summer and into fall camp.

“We told them to watch [Clinch] celebrate. We want it to burn in their chests,” Nobles said. “We’ve got a great group of kids, who do everything we ask them to do. We know they will get up off the matt and keep fighting.”

It’s because of the fact that Nobles knows how mentally and physically tough his players are, that he and his staff can keep reminding them about yet another state championship game that got away.

“Our program is based on competition, and so our kids compete hard in everything they do,” Nobles said. “Who can do the most pull-ups? Who can do the most sit-ups? We structure our workouts to be competitions, so that there are winners and losers, and our kids hate to lose.

“But I tease them a lot [about the loss],” Nobles said. “I may say, I’ll bet Clinch’s kids can do more pushups. Or when they walk past our game day countdown clock, I’ll say you do remember that the last game you played, you lost, right?”

It might sound a bit cruel, but Nobles knows he’s stoking an even bigger fire in his players. Irwin doesn’t have traditional spring football workouts because nearly every player on the team’s 66-man roster plays another spring sport – baseball, soccer or track and field. But they still prepared for another championship run as nearly every one of his players had weight lifting as a class spring semester. The handful that didn’t showed up at 7 a.m. to lift weight before school started. Then for two weeks in May, Nobles got team members together for drills and competitions.

“We would do things like hide a ball in a pile of dummies and have one player from each team try to dig in and find the ball,” Nobles said. “It’s another game that builds that competitive spirit, and like I said, our kids hate to lose.”

Chief among them is senior LB/RB Davion Pollard (5-7, 170 pounds). “He’s our bell cow, our leader,” Nobles said. “He’s not 6-2, 220, but when the game is over everybody on the other side is asking ‘who is that kid?’ “

Others who will play a pivotal role in the coming season’s success include seniors ATH Jay Stanley and OL/DL Lochlan Cunningham, and junior LB/RB D.J. Lundy. 

Before the season opener against Class AA Berrien County, Irwin will test itself in two scrimmages, Aug. 4 against AA Brooks County and Aug. 10 against AAA Worth County.

Nobles knows his team will be back in the running for the state title. This time he hopes the fourth time will be the charm.

“We’ve got to go into the season with the mindset to get better each week,” he said. “We’re not the biggest team, but we’ve got some speed and we’re blessed to have some special athletes. I love the character and the spirit of this team. Hopefully we can get some breaks and see what happens.”

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