The 2018 season did not end as planned for the defending state champion Hapeville Charter Hornets. They spent the entire season ranked No. 1 only to be bounced in the second round by No. 4 Callaway in a game that could just as easily served as the Class AA title game.
The Hornets’ quest to get back on a championship track is already underway with spring practice, which began last week and will conclude on Friday with a scrimmage at Heritage-Conyers. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m., with admission $5.
Another preseason top-five ranking figures to be in the mix for the Hornets, who return several key players including five starters on offense and six on defense.
“We should make a good run at it,” said Hornets coach Winston Gordon of his expectations for the team. “We’re an experienced, senior-led team that gives everything we’ve got in practice, and we’ve always been that way. We’ve got that intensity, and we look for the tradition of playing hard-nosed football to continue. I don’t see anything different. Every season, we want to make it to the state championship.”
While some programs take spring practice lightly, opting to forego pads and full-contact drills, that’s never been the case at Hapeville Charter, where the program began in 2011 — with Gordon being its only coach.
“We go full tilt,” he said. “We get after them because that’s the only way to know what you’ve got. There’s no touch-and-go here.”
Key returners include quarterback Jeremy Stephens, who last year played in a timeshare. He’s expected to be the clearcut No. 1 in 2019, his senior year. Running back Marcus Carroll, receivers Jaquez Smith and Timothy Taylor, defensive backs Armani Maddox and Tajiri Smith, defensive ends Zavier Carter and Nick Hunter and tackle Robert Lee are also expected to play in big roles for the Hornets.
Key losses include defensive linemen Jujuan White and West Georgia signee Mel Johnson.
“It’s tough to replace interior linemen,” Gordon said of the biggest holes to fill from last year’s team.
Though Gordon can envision last season playing out differently had the circumstances been different, his vision of the 2019 Hornets is strong as ever.
“No knock to (Callaway) but Mel had a high ankle sprain and three of our interior defensive linemen were injured,” he said. “So that hurt us with (Callaway) as the draw, them being a run team with a strong offensive line (led by Auburn signee Keiondre Jones). We can play full-tilt with anyone in the country, but in AA injuries get to you quick and then you’re done for. That’s what happened to us in a nutshell.
“But we’re going to reload and come back bigger and better.”
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