In Philip Jones’ third year at the helm of Brookwood, the Broncos won 11 straight games after starting 0-2, won Region 7-AAAAAAA and reached the semifinals for the eighth time in school history. But after the 31-14 loss to Colquitt County (a team they defeated earlier in the season) that kept them out of the state title game, the Broncos had to face the reality of losing 20 starters and 19 signed players from a tight-knit senior class.
“We had a talented group but also a really connected group,” Jones said. “Sometimes when you have a lot of talent, they kind of play for themselves as opposed to each other. … Even though [our players] were talented, they weren’t selfish. They played for each other.”
It will be a new-look offense without two of the top weapons in the state last season and a quarterback who broke the school’s all-time passing record.
Three-year QB starter Angelo DiSpigna, headed to Mercer to play baseball, gives way to a position battle featuring two seniors and two sophomores. Seniors Griffin Jamison and Conner Chavis and sophomores Caleb Ellard and Jack Spyke are all in the mix.
“They’re all talented kids,” Jones said. “The older ones have a little more experience and know the offense a littler better. Both those young ones are 6-3, 6-4 with big arms and have a lot of potential, but they’re both behind the curve a little bit in terms of knowledge of the offense.”
Jones likes the potential of the offensive line, which will be anchored by the only returning starter on that side of the ball, senior center Aidan Perkins. Joining him will be likely starters Sean Hill (Jr., LT), Mike Bell (Sr., RG) and Chase Hall (Sr., RT). A couple of players are in the mix at left guard.
Running behind them will be senior running back Chris Carter and junior Eli Kohl. The two are fast and elusive and should see about the same number of carries. They don’t have much in the way of returning numbers while playing behind Dante Black, who is headed to UConn after scoring 36 touchdowns as a senior, but Jones says the backfield is in good hands.
“Those young ones didn’t get a lot of carries last year. We knew they were talented and ready, but they’ve just kind of been waiting their turn. We’re excited about both of them coming back.”
Matthew Hill will be another big loss at wide receiver. The incoming Auburn freshman caught passes and factored in the running game in order to use his game-breaking athleticism. Now, there is a host of receivers vying for playing time. T.J. Ellis on the outside has the most experience in a Brookwood uniform, and Mekal Fuller, who was one of the top receivers at Lanier last season, will feature on the inside. Jayden Williams, Omajuwa Etiwe, Bobby Ezzard, Zac Dyer and Lorenzo Britt will all compete for snaps.
On defense, the only other returning starter on the team is senior cornerback Michael Killebrew, a tough defender with good technique. Joining him at corner is senior Sterling Ross, who logged some snaps last season. Senior Mountain View transfer Dennarrio Stewart is in line to start at strong safety, and senior Zion Pullins will start at free safety. Several of the aforementioned receivers will have a chance to contribute in the secondary as well.
The Broncos employ a 3-4 scheme, and there will be a lot of competition across the front seven. On the defensive line, senior Nick Perez was the primary sub last season and is ready for more snaps at DE. Steven Relea will also factor in on the outside, and Jake Winskie, one of the linemen in the mix for the left guard spot, could also see a primary role at end. At nose guard, juniors Joel Seton and Rhasaan Kimbrough will split snaps. The starting right tackle, Hall, will provide depth on the line.
At linebacker, Cameron Randolph and Tyler Knight are pushing each other for snaps at the SAM position, while Anthony Gorney and Antonio Ward have distinguished themselves thus far at MIKE and WILL, respectively. Ethan Quarshie is in line to start at the Bandit position.
As for specialists, long snapper Parker Hilliard returns as starter. Punter Hunter Hall will look to lock down the starter’s job, but at kicker, the Broncos have a handful of names competing for the spot. Return duties are up for grabs as well.
Though the spring ended with a 31-7 loss to powerhouse Hoover of Alabama on May 19, Jones is hopeful that a full offseason and non-region schedule will prepare his Broncos to reach their potential by the end of the 2018 season.
“We want to go win every game, of course, so we’ll prepare with the mindset that we want to win every game,” Jones said. “But our goal even more so than that is to grow through the process and get better and to learn more about ourselves, especially in those early games.”
BROOKWOOD’S 2018 SCHEDULE
8/18 @North Gwinnett (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8/24 Peachtree Ridge
8/31 @South Gwinnett
9/07 @Collins Hill
10/12 @Central Gwinnett
11/02 Lakeside, DeKalb