Three of the four local high school football teams get things started under the Friday night lights this week with official scrimmages.
Local coaches are ready to see their players in action against someone other than their own teammates at practices.
Although the scrimmages are not official games and will not count in any standings, they provide an additional evaluation of players at game speed prior to opening night.
Most scrimmages do not include any “live kicking game” plays and often utilize a format to include at least a quarter or more for the younger or less experienced players to play.
In one of the most interesting pre-season matchups in the entire state, Cartersville head coach Joey King and the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes are hosting Westminster at 8pm Friday at Weinman Stadium.
Cartersville was 15-0 in 2015 and won the Class AAAA state championship.
Westminster was 3-4 to start the 2015 campaign, but closed the year with eight consecutive victories and a Class AAA state title. The Wildcats won each of their first four state playoff games by 18 points or more to reach the finals, including a 51-21 defeat of Adairsville in the state quarterfinals.
Cartersville and Westminster took out powerhouse programs in their respective state championship games. Cartersville defeated Buford 10-0, while Westminster rebounded from an October loss to region-foe Blessed Trinity. In the rematch, the Wildcats held off the Titans at the Georgia Dome 38-31 in overtime.
“We had a really good off season,” said the Canes' coach King, “but we’re ready to see the guys in action again against another opponent.”
“We have several contributors back from last year’s team on defense and we’re looking forward to big things from them,” added King.
The Canes return three of their defensive linemen, plus Sean Holton and Nyvan Nelson at linebacker. In the secondary, Cartersville returns Xavier Coaxum and pre-season all-state selection Trey Creamer.
King looks to replace three offensive linemen and starters at receiver on the other side of the ball, but has the nation’s top prospect in the Class of 2018 calling the signals.
Trevor Lawrence, a junior pre-season all-state selection at quarterback in Class AAAA, has thrown for 6,697 yards and 69 touchdowns in two seasons for the Canes. Creamer will play one of the running back spots for Cartersville along with junior Dominque Williams.
“We have a lot of young guys that will get a chance to show what they can do and we are excited to get them out there in game type situations,” King said.
Westminster will counter with a pair of Class AAA pre-season all-state selections of their own in defensive lineman Cortez Alston and running back Zay Malcolm.
Alston (6-3, 250) is a weak-side defensive end rated by 247Sports as a top-80 player in Georgia. He is leaning toward either the University of California in the Pac 12 or Notre Dame for his play at the next level.
Malcome (5-4, 160) is small in stature, but big on yardage and results. The speedy and shifty running back rushed for 1,642 yards last season and has a school-record 3,863 career yards rushing. In the Wildcats’ state title run, he scored 38 touchdowns rushing, caught three touchdown passes, returned five punts for scores, and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. He has even thrown a touchdown pass. He has multiple collegiate offers, including Ivy League schools Princeton, Harvard, and Penn, plus the service academies.
Cartersville and Westminster have played four times before in the regular season and met in the second round of the state playoffs in 2004. The Wildcats hold a 3-2 edge in those matchups. The Canes will face a second consecutive state championship when they open the regular season August 19. Cartersville will host Class AAAAA champ Allatoona. Westminster opens the regular season at home August 19 against Woodward Academy.
Also in action with a Friday night scrimmage, Adairsville will travel to Woodland for an intra-county matchup.
Woodland, under second year head coach Tony Plott, is looking to continue their rebuild of the program.
The Wildcats were 1-9 in 2015 off the heals of an 0-10 season the year before. Woodland was 4-6 in 2013.
Plott returns several key individuals with experience, and will look to running back Justice Carter as an offensive weapon and defensive end / tight end Emmanuel Jones (6-3, 230).
Adairsville is coming off one of the program’s best seasons.
The Tigers were Region 6-AAA runner-up in 2015 and won two state playoff games before succumbing to eventual state champions, Westminster in the quarterfinals.
Adairsville, 11-2 last season, graduated 22 seniors but returns three starters on both offense and defense.
“We had a great off-season and our spring practices went really well,” said Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop. “Our kids have worked extremely hard this summer and we’re pleased with where we are right now.”
Among the returnees, Bishop will rely on senior quarterback Roger Redd in only his second year of football.
“Roger led us to 11 wins last year. He’s put on some weight, he is stronger, and a bit quicker. He has worked really hard in the off-season,” said the coach.
Third-year starter Jeb Simerly will anchor the Tigers’ offensive line and Denzel Pitt (6-5, 235) will play a key role at both wide receiver and defensive end.
“Our defensive line is probably our strength again,” noted Bishop. “We returned several guys in that group, but our offensive line is probably our most improved group.”
Adairsville will face familiar competition in Region 6-AAA once the regular season gets underway.
“The region is really competitive,” said Bishop. “The key games are usually Calhoun, Sonoraville, and Ringgold, but we make sure the kids understand that no one game defines our season.”
Adairsville and Woodland have met four times before in regular season play. Adairsville leads the series 3-1 and handled the Wildcats 35-23 in both teams’ opener last year.
The Tigers open their regular season August 19 at Ridgeland. Woodland plays at River Ridge that same evening.
The other local team, Cass, does not open its regular season until August 26 at Adairsville, The Colonels will travel to Lindale near Rome for their official pre-season scrimmage August 19 at Pepperell.