The 2017 season did not quite live up to the standard that head coach Keith Maloof has set at Norcross in recent years, but in his words, it wasn’t far off. The team only managed a 5-6 record with a first-round playoff exit to Grayson, but the Blue Devils dropped numerous games after leading late.
“That team last year could have gone either way,” Maloof said, noting that this offseason he has emphasized finishing strong and closing out games.
Maloof loses a senior class of 42 players, 22 of whom will continue their careers at some level of college football. He says the senior class isn’t quite as large as last year’s, but there is a good mix of veterans and players seeking more experience.
“When you’re a program of our size that graduates 40 seniors (each year), sometimes it takes some time for these other guys to get experience,” Maloof said. “That’s who we are right now. We’re putting 18 to 22 kids in college each year, it takes time, and over the offseason it’s important for these guys to get the experience they need. That’s why it’s important this summer with our 7-on-7 stuff that we get the experience we need for them.”
The Blue Devils have about roughly 11 players with significant starting experience—six on offense, five on defense. Maloof elected to play an intrasquad scrimmage at the end of spring rather than take on another team, in order to evaluate more of his own players.
“We had a great spring,” Maloof added. “We had a lot of kids that have grown up that we’re expecting to contribute. We’re very talented in our younger group and our seniors. We’ve got a good mix of young to older, more so than we’ve ever had, and we’re real proud of the development of them.”
Louis Williams is the point man on offense. The senior had a strong junior campaign, and the 6-foot-5, 2-5-pound signal-caller “solidifies our offense,” according to Maloof.
Williams will have plenty of weapons to choose from among his offensive skill players. Back are top receivers Christian Sims and Isaiah Wilson, both seniors. Sims is a rangy 6-3 and Wilson stands about 6-1. Running back Kam Jackson is back as a senior after getting some good touches in his junior year, and Lance Jackson is a senior transfer who played at North Gwinnett previously and will also contribute at running back.
“In the skill positions on offense, we feel very good about who we are and what we’re doing,” Maloof said. “The younger kids are going to step up. We’ve just got to get them some games under their belt.”
Several other receivers who could factor into the offense this season are Randy Smith, Michael Porter and Anthony Inya-Agha.
On the O-line, Zarritt Mumphery will be the leader of the squad, and a host of players will slot into positions this fall. Quinton Bradford, Micah Green and others will be in line for starting spots, and Maloof said 10 players could see big minutes during the season.
Defensively, Maloof sees six key players and a lot of moving parts behind them, especially in the secondary. Senior MIKE linebacker Christian Wright will be the centerpiece of the D. The 5-10, 220-pound senior is a tackling machine and will get help from Tyler Moore, who will play some defensive end and linebacker for the Blue Devils. Maloof says Moore has bided his time behind other players and is ready to contribute as a senior. Senior Emmanuel King, senior Onieshon Sturgis and sophomore Kaleb Jackson are pushing for snaps as well at linebacker.
Keyshaun Williford is a 6-2, 180-pound rush end who is in line to start, and Jalen Garner will look to step into a leading role on the interior of the line as just a sophomore. Senior Jalen Jackson and sophomore Darryl Shankle will figure into the DE rotation as well.
Senior cornerback Randy Cochran has the most experience returning in the secondary. Maloof says sophomore Josh Graham will also factor into the unit and will get some time at slot receiver as well as handling much of the return duties on special teams. Amani Johnson and Roland Jackson are the names to watch at strong safety. Jamal Janvier, Jaytwon Peoples and Yasin Lee will be fighting for time at cornerback.
Norcross is in the unique situation of needing to replace not one but two Division I kickers, as Jake Camarda is now at Georgia and Cole Hanna joins South Carolina. But Maloof should have another good one in Kellen Grave de Peralta, a strong-legged junior who is in line to handle kicking and punting duties.
Overall, Maloof says his squad is hungry after last season’s close calls, and the Blue Devils could be ready to push for a Region 7-AAAAAAA title after an uncharacteristic losing season.
“I feel like coming out of spring we accomplished a lot of our goals, we developed a lot of depth throughout the program, and guys are just pushing each other right now to win jobs. It’s a really unique situation. We’re real proud of where we are and what we’ve done over the years, but we’re not happy with getting knocked out in the first round last year.”
NORCROSS’ 2018 SCHEDULE
8/18 vs. Mays (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8/31 vs. Mill Creek
9/07 at North Gwinnett
9/14 vs. Archer
9/21 vs. Central Gwinnett
9/28 at Parkview
10/12 vs. Lakeside, DeKalb
10/19 at Berkmar
10/26 vs. Brookwood
11/02 at Meadowcreek