Mill Creek will be searching for experience and depth to fill several holes as it enters the 2018 season after losing crucial contributors to graduation.
Last year, Mill Creek opened its season with a 23-19 victory over McEachern in the Corky Kell Classic at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta. It worked its way to a 7-3 regular season and a first-round playoff matchup against West Forsyth. The 29-14 first-round victory set up a rematch with Archer in the second round. The Hawks fell to Archer 16-13 in the regular season and couldn’t figure out the equation the second time around, falling 16-10 in the playoffs.
This year, Mill Creek will need young talent to step up. For head coach Shannon Jarvis, that’s just business as usual.
“We are going to have a lot of youth and inexperience on our team,” said Jarvis. “But, really, we have that every year going into the first game. Usually, we are going to graduate some pretty good players, but we are also fortunate to replace them with some pretty good players. It’s just how quickly they’ll adjust to it.”
The Hawks return six starters on offense and will use the spring to figure out their quarterback situation. One has experience. One is an up-and-comer. Yet both are talented. According to Jarvis, there are several more players vying for the spot, but from his perspective, it’s down to two.
“A bunch of names in the battle,” Jarvis said of Mill Creek’s current quarterback situation. “Caden Cullen played a little bit last year. He will be a rising senior and we are looking forward to him. Caden has a lot of experience. He is a very strong kid and is in the 1,000-pound club and plays on our baseball team, which is in the state playoffs. He’s just a very athletic young man.”
Cullen had just two completions in six attempts last year for 62 yards and one touchdown. He rushed for 15 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts. His competition is a rising sophomore looking to make a name for himself.
“We also have a sophomore, M.J. Patterson, that we are very excited about,” he said. “We will let them battle it out over the spring and summer, and by that time, we will be able to name that starter. But, currently, those two are the front-runners fighting for that position.”
Returning receiving and rushing leader Parker Wroble will certainly have an impact offensively for the Hawks. He rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 25 touches and caught 18 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-foot-8, 163-pound junior rotated through the lineup last year before settling down. This season, look for him to be in the backfield a bit more.
“Parker started for us last year as a sophomore,” Jarvis said. “He started but was rotating a bit early, but as the season went on, he was a kid that we had to get more and more involved. We are counting on Parker this year. Last year, he was used a lot as a slot receiver, and we will use him this year more in the backfield. He’s a very tough kid. He’s not overly big, but he’s strong and tough and has speed and quickness and we are counting on him this year to have a big year for us.”
On defense, Mill Creek returns four starters with Austin Ruiz-Velasco the anchor. The 5-11, 225-pound all-region DE/OLB has been a brute. Last year, he made 52 solo tackles and 29 assists with seven tackles for a loss, six sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.
“Austin is an all-region player from last year,” Jarvis said. “He’s a kid who has such a motor and such tenacity. Yesterday we were going through a walk-through and I had to get on him a bit for going too fast then. He’s a kid you’re always having to slow down a bit instead of saying ‘giddy up.’ He is going to be a huge part of not just our defense but our whole team, just the energy he brings. He’s a high-academic kid with tremendous grades and character. I tell them all that he’s our best football player, pound-for-pound.”
With a player like Ruiz-Velasco, it’s easy to take advantage of everything he can offer. His talent level on the defensive side pushes the offensive linemen in practice. He’s also a measuring stick for the younger players trying to break through into the starting lineup.
“Especially in spring and preseason practices, one thing we always do, because we have enough depth, we will go 1-versus-1, head on,” Jarvis said. “Austin will go against our first-team offensive line, as will the whole front. So there’s not a lot of practice where you’re going against a scout team. And that’s in preseason and spring. That’s invaluable for us even when we are evaluating a young offensive lineman coming up this spring. I know what Austin is going to bring to the table and we know what caliber of player he is. He is the standard that you’ll place, not only evaluating the offensive line going against him, but the other defensive linemen trying to break into that starting lineup. They know the level they’ll have to play at when it comes to Austin.”
Defensive end Myles Jackson is another producer on the defensive side of the ball. Last year he had 29 solo tackles and 29 assists with six tackles for a loss, three sacks and eight quarterback hurries. Defensive back Jacob Allen had 42 solo tackles and 16 assists with 11 tackles for a loss, five sacks, five quarterback hurries and an interception.
Jarvis has coached in every Corky Kell Classic since 2014. He has had great wins and tough losses, but for him, the experience is invaluable. Being a part of the Classic was his goal because playing high-caliber competition early helps greatly come early December.
“One of my first goals was being able to be a part of the Corky Kell Classic,” Jarvis said. “I believe in playing the best teams you can early in the year because, I’m not going to use the word ‘hype,’ but it does bring a lot more sense of urgency to your preparation. We have been fortunate to be in the Corky Kell the last [five] years and it didn’t take long for me to get [the players’] attention because of the responsibility. We really strive to be midseason form for that game because of the quality of the opponent that you’re playing.
“Walton has a tremendous team, and if you aren’t prepared to play, you can get embarrassed in that Corky Kell too. To me it just adds more responsibility to our preparation. I love it. If we weren’t in the Corky Kell, I’d be looking for the next-best team, in the state or out, to play and prepare for the season.”
MILL CREEK’S 2018 SCHEDULE
8/18 Walton (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8/31 at Norcross
9/21 at Duluth
9/28 Peachtree Ridge
10/05 at North Gwinnett
10/19 at Mountain View
11/02 Collins Hill