The Cartersville High School Purple Hurricanes football team has won back-to-back Class 4A state championships and expectations continue to run high for head coach Joey King and his squad.
The Canes will hit the field at Westminster High School in Atlanta on Friday, August 11 at 7:30pm for their official GHSA pre-season scrimmage, but a full spring and summer of high-energy, high-intensity work has the Cartersville coach excited.
“Our kids have been working really hard,” King told Kevin Pate and Alan Sanders of WBHF this week. “We’ve actually taken the last couple of weeks off to let our kids be kids and coaches relax for a few days and squeeze in some vacation time, but we are ready to start this year’s grind.”
Cartersville returns 34 seniors on this season’s roster and with consecutive state titles and a Final Four appearance in 2014, it is a group of players accustomed to success.
“We have a great group of kids, a phenomenal administration, and I believe we have the best coaching staff in Georgia,” King stated. “Our goal is always to win a state championship and these kids work hard toward that goal each and every day.”
King was asked if there is ever any concern about complacency following the state titles.
“Competition breeds success,” King responded. “We push each other every day in the weight room and compete on the practice field. I was impressed by the competitive nature of Cartersville kids when I arrived here and we’ve just tried to channel that energy in the right direction as coaches.”
Cartersville will again compete in Region 5-AAAA with the top four teams in that league advancing to the GHSA Class AAAA state playoffs in November. Cedartown, Central-Carrollton, LaGrange, Chapel Hill, Sandy Creek, and Troup County join the Hurricanes in the seven-team region. While Region 5-AAAA will include the same schools as last season, there have been some changes with coaching leadership at a few of those schools according to coach King.
“Central-Carrollton, Cedartown, and Sandy Creek have new coaching staffs, so we will be anxious to see how they stack up as the season begins. We know from what we saw last year and their returning players that Sandy Creek and Troup will have really talented squads."
Cartersville has a bevy of incredibly talented players returning as well, including the top recruit in the nation in senior quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The 6-5, 205-pound signal caller has committed to Clemson and has received national attention since hitting the field for the Canes as a freshman.
When asked about new contributors for this year’s team, King pointed to the quality off-season work by several players. Rico Frye is a 5-10, 200-pound senior running back transfer from Creekside High School. He has rushed for 4886 yards and 55 touchdowns in his career and reportedly has offers from UT-Chattanooga, Bowling Green, Eastern Kentucky, Samford, Central Michigan, Gardner Webb, Mercer, Fresno State and Jacksonville State. Frye has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.56.
Junior running back Marcus Gary (5-8, 160) was the Canes’ top rusher in their spring competition and also drew high praise from his head coach for his continued improvement.
Marquall Coaxum (5-9, 140) and Marko Dudley (5-11, 160) are two sophomores that will have an opportunity to start for the Hurricanes in the secondary, while Carson Murray (6-1, 195) will be a threat off the edge with fellow linebackers Dylan Henderson (5-10, 195) and Grant Harris (6-3, 215) moving into the Cartersville defensive personnel forefront. The Canes also return middle linebacker Nyvin Nelson and Darian Poellnitz up front. Both held important defensive roles last season.
The Purple Hurricanes also return talented receivers E.J. Turner, T.J. Horton, JKobe Orr, Kaleb Chatmon, Jackson Lowe and more.
Turner (6-0, 175, Sr. - left photo) has received high profile offers from Kansas State, Syracuse, West Virginia, Western Kentucky, and Buffalo among others. Horton and Orr were mainstays on the Canes’ basketball team this past season with tremendous athleticism and Lowe (6-4, 210, Jr.) is rated by some recruiting services as a Power 5 player from the Cartersville program.
Other returnees expected to impact the 2017 season for Cartersville include Jacorey Johns (6-4, 220, Sr., LB); Tee Webb (6-4, 180, So., QB); Nick Root (6-1, 265, Sr., OL); Bryce Wilkins (5-9, 235, Sr., OL/DL); Demetrious Winters (6-1, 270, Sr., OL); and kicker/punter Jonathan Cruz.
L-R Top: Nelson, Root, Johns L-R Middle: Horton, Wilkins, Cruz L-R Bottom: Webb, Winters, Lowe
Johns has collegiate offers from Purdue, Colorado State, Appalachian State, and Southern Miss among others. Webb — who received his first D-I offer while still in middle school — will continue as the Canes’ JV quarterback, but is expected to receive more meaningful varsity reps according to King. Root, Wilkins, and Winters were all-county pillars for the Canes in 2016 and Cruz returns for his senior season after already receiving D-I offers.
Coach King pointed to Cartersville’s playoff success as a key tool in developing players.
“We’ve extended the season deep into the playoffs the past few years and that has been valuable in our player development,” noted the Canes’ head coach. “Our younger guys have received five more weeks of practices each of the past two years and we’ve been fortunate to get a lot of them into games. That’s ten playoff games in just the last two years, so that’s an entire season of extra games and practices.”
The Cartersville program was also recently featured in a commercial for Adidas that was seen during the ESPN Espy Awards.
“We were one of about five elite Adidas schools included in the commercial,” King explained. “That was pretty sweet for the Cartersville name and colors to be on national television.”
The Canes will face another challenging non-region schedule of games. Cartersville opens the regular season August 18 at Allatoona, will host Calhoun September 1, and will travel to Westlake on September 8.
The Hurricanes will also host a nationally televised doubleheader at Weinman Stadium on Saturday, August 26.
Saraland (Ala.) will play Heard County (Ga.) at 3:30pm on ESPNU and Cartersville will entertain Bartram Trail (Fla.) that same evening at 7:30pm. The doubleheader is part of the 2017 GEICO High School Football Kickoff and is billed as a quarterback showcase with Jack West of Saraland, Ohio State commit Emory Jones for Heard County, Auburn commit Joey Gatewood for Bartram Trail and Cartersville’s Lawrence.
“We’re really excited for the 2017 season. We have a great opportunity to play on a national level with the ESPN game, but the front of our schedule is going to be challenging for sure,” continued King.
“I try to not get too carried away,” King added, “but sometimes you have to take a step back and simply appreciate what a great place this is and what a great opportunity this is for our kids.”
2017 CARTERSVILLE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 18 -- at Allatoona
Aug. 26 -- Bartram Trail (St. Johns, FL)
Sept. 1 -- Calhoun
Sept. 8 -- at Westlake
Sept. 15 — open
Sept. 22 -- Cedartown
Sept. 29 -- at Central
Oct. 6 -- at LaGrange
Oct. 13 -- Sandy Creek
Oct. 20 -- Chapel Hill
Oct. 27 — open
Nov. 3 -- at Troup County