An offseason filled with turmoil and uncertainty will come to a conclusion this week as high school football officially returns in the state of Georgia.
The first game of the annual Corky Kell Classic — and the first game in the state for the 2020 season — will feature two teams which have never played each other, each with high hopes for the new year.
Carver (Atlanta) will travel to Cherokee on Wednesday to take on the Warriors at Tommy Baker Field. Both teams were in the state playoffs in 2019 with the Warriors advancing to the second round. Attendance will be limited in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, however, the televised game will undoubtedly garner attention from around the state from football-starved fans.
Cherokee coach Josh Shaw said that despite the offseason adversity, his players are ready for the opportunity to begin their season.
“We’re extremely excited,” Shaw said. “Just to have the opportunity to be a part of the Corky Kell and be on TV. And to have the opportunity and to host it at home, it’s tremendous.”
Cherokee is coming off consecutive playoff appearances and its best season (8-4) in over a decade. Optimism surrounding the program is high with a number of key players returning for the Warriors. The junior offensive trio of quarterback A.J. Swann, running back Keith Adams Jr. and wide receiver Addarrius Harshaw are all returning first-team All-County selections and should be the linchpins of an offense that averaged 24 points a game last year.
Senior linebacker Braesen Parker set a program single-season record for tackles in 2019 and will certainly be looked to lead a defense which held seven opponents to 14 points or less a season ago. Expect defensive lineman Toby Thompson and defensive back Riley Lyons to also be key contributors on the Warriors’ defense.
Without the benefit of preseason scrimmages, many coaches will be forced to primarily use last year’s game film for preparation.
“A lot of the emphasis recently has been on improving on ourselves,” Shaw said. “We’re a much deeper team this year than we have been in the past. We know (Carver) will be extremely well-coached and I think the main thing for us containing their athletes. We can’t give up the big plays against them. We can’t let their speed get behind us in the secondary. And obviously, for us offensively we need to be able to run the football.”
Carver — only three years removed from a state semifinal appearance — is coming off a 7-4 campaign and its eighth consecutive playoff appearance. The Panthers will need to replace All-State running back Jo’Quavious Marks, who signed with Mississippi State after an outstanding career, along with quarterback Amari Jones who transferred to Valdosta in the offseason. Despite the attrition, there is no shortage of returning playmakers on the Panthers’ roster.
Kiontae Strozier was second on the team in total yards last year and seems the likely candidate to take snaps behind center after splitting time with Jones in 2019. Strozier should be joined in the backfield by Jarveous Brown and Bobby Sims Jr. who combined for 688 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season. On the outside the names to watch are Quintavious Davis and Deandre Buchannon to be the primary weapons for Carver and the keys to the Panthers’ deep-play ability.
On defensive, Carver returns several experienced players with college offers. Tobias Fletcher — a three-star cornerback who is committed to Coastal Carolina — should help lead the secondary while linebackers Devonte Amasiani and Dialo Mosley continue to draw attention from college coaches.