It would be easy to look at Grayson’s football team and think that 2019 will be something of a step back for a program that has been among Georgia’s best for more than a decade.
After all, 43 seniors are gone from last year’s state quarterfinal team, all of one of which are going on to play college football, including 13 at major FBS programs.
Add in a new head coach in Adam Carter and several new assistants and that’s a lot of change for even a well-established program like Grayson’s.
But based on what he’s seen so far during spring practice and summer workouts, Carter is convinced the Rams won’t necessarily be taking that step back some might be expecting this fall.
“Our approach won’t change,” Carter said. “The only thing that happened with us is we lost that 2019 class that had so much talent. A lot of our guys (remaining) didn’t get to play very much over the course of the last two years at the varsity level. So our big thing right now is just getting reps and getting work and getting our kids better.
“We’ve got good football players. Now obviously, the big-time power-five (conference) players, we don’t have 13 of them right now. But we’ve got some, and we’ve got a bunch of kids with offers already. But we’re trying to change the thought a little bit around here from the coaching staff, from the community, to the players. It’s more about what can you do for Grayson, not what Grayson can do for you. And our kids are buying into that. We just had the best Monday (workout) we’ve had all summer, and going into the (GHSA-mandated) dead week, their minds could be in 1,000 different places. But it wasn’t. It was on football. So I’m excited to be where we’re at. I know that there have been some changes around here, but the changes our kids have had, coming to work and becoming more of a team and family atmosphere is something I’m really proud of. We’ve got a really good group, and I’m telling you, we’ve got a chance to be a really good football team.”
The new and different attitude aside, Carter is correct when he points out that the cupboard is hardly bare for his team in 2019.
The Rams already have one player committed to a major college program with receiver Ryan King having given his verbal pledge to Georgia Tech, while two others — fellow senior and quarterback C.J. Dixon and junior running back Phil Mafah — sport up to 20 college offers.
Of course, all three, as well as numerous other players, are going to be asked to play larger roles than they have been before.
And based on what he’s seen from them this spring and summer, Carter is confident the Rams will be up to the task.
“I think that we’ve responded pretty well,” Carter said. “We’ve got kids defensively like (cornerback) Marsyas Fox and (defensive end) Noah Collins and (safety) Jibrahn Claude — they didn’t get many varsity reps last year, but have plenty of significance for us right now, and are doing a really good job. You have players like (linebacker) Logan Daniels and (defensive end) Jadyn Bost that played a lot last year. So we’re leaning on those guys like that, who have experience to help us.
“Offensively, C.J. has tremendous talent. He doesn’t have a ton of varsity reps, and he knows that. On the offensive line, we lost a lot. We bring back (rising junior Garrett) Brophy. We bring back Sean Kennedy and Dakota Clark that have some experience. But again, the biggest thing for us right now is just how much film can we watch and where can we get to by the time fall gets here with a bunch of guys that are talented, but they just haven’t been brought through the fire yet? That’s kind of a big deal.”
If there’s one player who has gotten some varsity experience who should prove to be an example to his teammates of just how quickly they can make an impact, it is probably Mafah.
As a sophomore last season, the 6-foot, 210-pound running back gradually stepped in after Nebraska-bound Ronald Tompkins went down with a season-ending knee injury in last year’s first game and fellow senior and 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Halyard also struggled with injuries from time to time.
Mafah eventually ran for 720 yards and a team-best 10 touchdown in 10 games of action, which Carter says shows to others how to seize the moment when the opportunity to contribute presents itself.
“There’s no doubt, Phil Mafah is one of the best kids I’ve ever been around,” Carter said. “He’s one of those guys who’s going to do whatever he can to help the football team. He’s an example everywhere.
“He got a lot of quality work in last year, which hopefully carries over … to help some of our … guys that don’t have so much experience. Phil’s got a chance to be one of the best in the country.”