Tradition, expectations fuel Cartersville

The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, led by quarterback Jake Parker, are Class 5A's No. 1 ranked team with a 7-0 record. Last year they reached the 5A championship. (Nick Johnson/Special)
The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, led by quarterback Jake Parker, are Class 5A's No. 1 ranked team with a 7-0 record. Last year they reached the 5A championship. (Nick Johnson/Special)

Credit: Nick Johnson

Purple Hurricanes on long run of competing at championship level

The traditions are rich. The expectations are high.

The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes began playing football as early as 1909. They’ve won four state titles since 1991, including back-to-back 15-0 seasons in Class 4A with Trevor Lawrence in 2015 and 2016.

Third-year coach Conor Foster knows that success must come with the territory, and he doesn’t shy away from it.

“It’s something we embrace,” said Foster, who is 31-3 as coach. His predecessor and close friend, Joey King, went 67-4 in five seasons.

“We know the standard, and we spend a lot of time talking about it,” Foster said. “I’ve seen a lot of great players and teams here, and for us, the standard is locked in. We’re still working to build a championship program.”

With their 49-21 victory against No. 9 Blessed Trinity in Region 5-5A last week, the Canes (7-0, 3-0) jumped to No. 1 in the state rankings. They reached the 5A championship game last season and the quarterfinals the year before in Foster’s first season.

Foster, a Class of 2001 Cartersville alum, is an embodiment of the program’s tradition. He played on the 1999 championship team and his father, Martin Foster, was a longtime Hurricanes assistant, whose career spanned three decades, including Conor Foster’s high school seasons.

When King left Cartersville for the college ranks after the 2018 season, he recommended Foster, the defensive coordinator, as his successor. The two have known each other since serving as assistants at Carrollton in 2013, and Foster left for Cartersville when King took the Canes coaching job the next season.

In his return to Cartersville, Foster finds himself coaching players of parents he played with, and those parents like to talk.

“They tell all kinds of stories about me as a kid,” Foster said. “Whether it was me getting whupped in practice or stopping practice for bathroom breaks — they’re all unique stories, and they’re fun for me, my family and the players.”

Foster said that Lawrence, who won the 2018 NCAA national championship at Clemson and became the No. 1 overall pick by the Jaguars in this year’s NFL draft, still returns to Cartersville to check in with the team.

“He’s been back several times,” Foster said. “We love having him around. He uses football as a platform to make the experiences of those around him better. He embraces that, and our guys have seen it and aspire to do the same. With success comes an obligation to handle things the right way and to give back to your community. Trevor’s legacy goes beyond wins on Friday.”

Jake Parker is the Canes’ quarterback now, and the senior has thrown for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions on 67-of-120 passing. As a middle-schooler at Cartersville, Parker attended Canes practices and studied Lawrence, who at the time was a 5-star recruit and the nation’s consensus No. 1 overall player.

“Just watching him every day and how he performs‚ there’s a lot of detail in what he does that people don’t necessarily notice, that I’ve seen in practice and in the film room,” Parker said. “There’s just so much to learn from him.”

Parker’s experience with Lawrence — and waiting in the wings last season as Stratton Tripp and Carlos del Rio quarterbacked the Canes — has helped Parker in his climb to starting for a team embedded with championship expectations.

“It’s definitely tough, but coming from middle school, that’s what I expected,” Parker said. “I knew I’d have to wait my turn, so I was always ready. I knew the effort would pay off when we got our shot.”

The Canes will play at crosstown-rival Woodland (1-7, 0-3) Friday, then host No. 6 Calhoun (7-1, 3-0) Oct. 29 in a game that will determine the region’s champion. Last season was the Canes’ first in 5A after playing in 4A since 2014, and they saw their streak of eight consecutive region titles come to an end.

While Foster would say only that their goal is to go 1-0 every week, Parker was more forthcoming.

“We always want to chase that ring,” he said. “Last year we were so close, and we felt we had it ripped out of our hands. That’s fueling our team, and we’re even more motivated to get back to the title game. There’s nothing like that feeling we had when we were driving in the parade leaving Cartersville to go to the championship. But we want that feeling — and the parade — when we come back to Cartersville, too.”

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