Sandy Creek preview

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 12:02pm
By: Kevin Wandra

The local teams who competed in Region 2-AAAA last year — Starr’s Mill, Whitewater, Fayette County and McIntosh — were accustomed to beating up on each other.

Now, the four aforementioned teams are playing in a new region, 5A-AAAA, and they are joined by a new kid on the block who should be one of the top contenders for the region title — Sandy Creek.

The Patriots have moved up a classification, from Class AAA to AAAA, but no team in Region 5A-AAAA has more returning starters; Creek returns 15 starters (nine on offense, six on defense) from a team that went 7-5 and advanced to the second round of the Class AAA playoffs last season.

Among Creek’s returning starters is standout quarterback Rio Johnson (6-3 185), who has committed to East Carolina.
Johnson, a second-year starter, is a strong-armed, intelligent quarterback and the unquestionable leader of Creek’s multiple I-back offense.

“Rio is the key to what we do offensively,” Patriots coach Chip Walker said. “He has a great understanding of the offense, and he can make all the throws.”

Ronnie Bell (5-10, 160) and Nate Weston (5-10, 160) are battling to become Johnson’s backup.

One of Creek’s strengths is its deep receiving corps, even without arguably the top wide receiver in the state, Braxton Lane, who decided to give up football to focus on his baseball career.

Starters Jarrett Davis (5-10, 165) and Patrick Alexander (5-9, 150) provide Johnson with two reliable, sure-handed targets. Davis is home run threat with blazing speed, and Alexander is more of a possession-type receiver who “has the best hands on the team,” said Walker.

Devon Hughes (6-0, 185), Alex Chisum (6-1, 175) and Jarreau Brown (6-0, 185) also will receive extensive playing time at wide receiver.

Hughes has a combination of good size and hands. If Hughes becomes more consistent, he could be a complete wide receiver. Chisum has the most potential of Creek’s three backup wideouts.

“Chisum has a huge upside,” Walker said. “He has the potential to be a really good wideout before he leaves here.”

Brown is Creek’s best blocking receiver.

Creek’s running game will be potent, as well.

Ragion Neal (5-11, 190), a second-year starter, has all the talent to be a star for Creek. He has the toughness to run inside and the breakaway speed to score each time he touches the ball. Neal also is a receiving threat out of the backfield.

The question is, can Neal handle toting the ball 20-25 times per game?

Last season, he split carries with Josh Williams, who graduated.

Walker thinks Neal can handle the load.

“Ragion is finally the guy,” Walker said. “He’s a back who can do a lot of things. He can catch the ball well, he has speed, and he’s tough.”

Lucky Charleston (5-7, 170), a shifty, versatile back — he can play both running back and fullback — also will receive some carries.

Another offensive weapon for Creek is Alex Green (6-0, 260), a physically imposing fullback/tight end. Green, a returning starter, is Mr. Versatility for the Patriots; he plays fullback, running back, tight end and defensive tackle, plus he is the team’s long snapper.

“Alex is the most important person on our football team,” Walker said. “He’s a great blocker at tight end and fullback, and he gives us the ability to have a weapon at any position on the field.”

Blocking for Creek’s vast collection of skill position talent is a big offensive line that features four returning starters: center Zach Vail (5-10, 240), guard John Holman (6-2, 280) and tackles Charlie Zemko (6-3, 225) and Christian Ezeagwu (6-0, 230).

Vail, a three-year starter, is Creek’ most experienced offensive lineman and the quarterback of the line. Holman, a converted offensive tackle, is a physical run blocker, and Zemko and Ezeagwu both are big-bodied, athletic blockers with nimble feet.

Creek’s lone offensive lineman who isn’t a returning starter is guard Recardo Fuentes (5-9, 195), who is small but moves well.

Offensive tackle Rene Johnson (6-1, 205) and guards Kenny Bishop (6-1, 275) and Nate Crummy (6-0, 280) are three backups who will see significant playing time.

Defensively, six starters return: defensive end Brandon Putnam (6-3, 235), nose tackle James Hervey (6-2, 260), middle linebacker Matt Solomon (5-11, 195), linebacker Michael Spaulding (6-0, 200) and safeties Isaiah Johnson (6-1, 180) and Russell Bonner (6-1,180).

Putnam, a three-year starter who has committed to Duke, and Hervey, a two-year starter, help make Creek’s defensive line the strength of the team’s defense.

Putnam is extremely disruptive against the run, and he can collapse the pocket as a pass rusher.

“Brandon is a very good technician,” Walker said. “He’s a very strong kid who plays hard and has a lot of potential.”

Hervey is a load inside — he’s the strongest player on the team — and he has surprising quickness for such a big player.

“He’s a beast,” Walker said of Hervey. “He has a chance to be very good.”

Creek uses a four-man rotation at the other defensive tackle spot: Ricky Harris (5-10, 235), Jonathon Caughman (5-10, 215), Cody Green (6-1, 200) and E.J. Henry (6-1, 230).

Alex Green is another defensive tackle who will receive extensive playing time.

Lacy Coleman (6-4, 215) and Gerald Williams (6-0, 210) are competing to start opposite Putnam at defensive end.

Defensive end Lance Pugh (6-1, 190) is Putnam’s backup.

Creek’s active defensive line makes things easier for Creek’s talented trio of linebackers: middle linebacker Solomon and outside linebackers Spaulding and Avery Walls (5-10, 180).

Solomon is undersized, but he’s a tackling machine from sideline to sideline. He shows exceptional pop at the point of attack, can drop and cover and is a sure tackler.

“He’s the best player in the county,” Walker said of Solomon. “He is a football player.”

Spaulding is physical and strong against the run, and Walls, a converted safety, can drop and cover.

Clinard Stokes (5-10, 180) is the top backup linebacker.

Creek’s starting cornerbacks are Julian Holmes (5-8, 170) and Bruce Dukes (5-10, 175). Holmes is more physical — he likes to come up and support the run — and Dukes, whom Walker calls “one of the top five or 10 athletes on the team,” is more of a cover corner.

Jimi Moultrie (5-8, 165) and Jeremy Miller (5-8, 175) also will see time at cornerback.

Creek’s secondary includes two of the top safeties in the region: Bonner, a three-year starter, and Johnson, a two-year starter.

Both have the range and speed to cover the deep half of the field and the toughness and tenacity to deliver hard hits against both the run and pass.

“They are two very good safeties,” Walker said. “They are as good a combination of safeties as we have ever had.”

Mike Hilton (5-9, 150), an up-and-coming freshman who is small but packs a wallop, is the top reserve at safety.

Zach Lopez (5-10, 175) is Creek’s kicker, and he and Bonner are vying to start at punter.

To make it to the state playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, Creek will have to survive a difficult schedule that begins with two teams that reached the second round of the playoffs last season — East Coweta and Shaw.

“Those first two games are tough,” Walker said. “We’ll get a chance to see where we are at.”

Later, Creek will get to test itself in its new classification against a group of local teams that should quickly develop into bitter rivals.

“Being close to home, it should be fun to create new rivalries,” Walker said. “It’s great for our kids. We loved playing in 6-AAA — it’s a football region — but playing in this new region is a big plus for us.”

Creek opens the season August 29 at home against non-region opponent East Coweta.

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