After starting the 2017 season 4-1 through their first five games, the Indians faced an extremely tough region schedule that resulted in a missed playoff berth in coach John Small’s first season in Coweta County. Small coached at South Gwinnett from 2005-16.
The 1-4 showing through Region 2-AAAAAAA took its toll and opponents like Westlake, Pebblebrook, Campbell and local rival Newnan had their say. This year, East Coweta is returning experienced players, and with the addition of a more difficult opening schedule, its region run could be turned into a different story.
“When I got here, they had graduated 11 starters on defense and nine backups,” Small said. “So depth on defense was not very good. We had a lot of good young players and 27 seniors last year, but only six of them played. We were a very young football team and we were saying that we were going to play a ton of kids and whatever happens, happens. But they have to play.
“The first five games, they were great. We were 4-1, and then the latter half of the season, we got into region play and we fell off a little bit. A lot of that came from youth. A lot of that I attribute to the schedule we played, the non-region schedule that we came into. This year, obviously, we’re playing some war daddies the first five games and we are going to get our noses bloodied a little bit, but that’s how you get better.”
The highlight of the spring practices for the Indians has been the battle for the starting quarterback spot after losing starting quarterback Christian Reid to graduation. Three players — senior Nate Cronic, junior Devin Gelband and sophomore Gabe Gray — are each vying for the position. Cronic, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, played just a few snaps last season.
“We have two kids that played a little bit, not much,” Small said. “We had a senior guy that was a three-year starter and he was a good player. He graduated so the junior and senior we have coming back, we feel good about both going into some competition through the spring and into the summer. So it’s going to be a fresh signal-caller back there, whoever it is. Nate is a bigger kid, Devin is a bit smaller and then Gabe Gray has had a tremendous offseason. I think it’s a race between the two older guys.”
The Indians are returning a solid batch of offensive players and their experience will aid in the transition at the quarterback position.
Gerald Green, a 5-10, 190-pound senior running back, rushed for over 900 yards as a junior and scored more than 20 touchdowns, including three kickoff returns for touchdowns. Senior Riley Jewett, a 6-3, 270-pound offensive linesman, started as a tackle last year and will also be showing at the guard position this year.
“Gerald is a special player,” Small said. “He is 5-10, 190 pounds and built like a rock. He’s an explosive kid, one of the most explosive kids I’ve been around. He’s fast but a very powerful kid. He packs a punch. He can run between the tackles, but he can also get outside the tackles. He’s a guy that you look at, as a coach, and think that every time he touches it, he has a chance. He has elite speed and power. It’s just a matter of getting him to the second level and if he gets there, it’s just a matter of time before he outruns somebody.”
Senior Ron Pettaway, a 6-2, 275-pound offensive lineman, started 10 games as a junior, giving him critical experience up front.
An experienced receiver corps will also return for the Indians. Senior Brayden Carey (6-1, 185) and juniors J.J. Freed (6-3, 175) and Rakiyan Moss (5-8, 140) will be the main targets and each has game experience.
Defensively, the Indians return around 20 players who have substantial playing time from last year. The defensive front was young last year, and this season, look for the extra experience to pay off. Several all-county and all-region players litter the roster. Seniors Taylor McCawley (6-1, 220-pound LB), Dantarius “Snook” Chunn (5-9, 175-pound DB/ATH), Jalen Whisby (6-0, 180-pound S) and Devin Holmes (6-0, 215-pound LB) are defensive players who earned postseason recognition last year.
“We feel like we are returning a good number of kids with experience,” Small said. “And then the kids have had a year under their belt to really buy in to what we are doing on a daily basis and we are really excited about this group of kids.
“How good are they going to be? I don’t know. But they’re going to play hard and they are fun to coach.”
East Coweta’s 2018 Schedule
8-18 vs. Kell (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8-24 at Carrollton
9-7 at Lowndes
9-14 vs. North Cobb
9-21 vs. McEachern
10-5 at Westlake
10-12 vs. Wheeler
10-19 at Pebblebrook
10-26 at Campbell
11-2 vs. Newnan