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Column: Looking at spring football across the Peach State

A look at spring college football across Georgia.

The views of the author are not necessarily the views of AllOnGeorgia.


The past couple of weeks I enjoyed talking spring football with high school coaches around South Georgia.

It’s good to be talking football again, and we’ll continue to do it throughout the summer months and definitely into preseason camp as the countdown to kickoff for the 2018 season begins.

One thing I found interesting is that several teams have staggered their spring practices like the colleges do these days, getting in their 10 allotted practice dates in a little more than two weeks while taking some days off here and there.

Speaking of college spring practices, those were mostly taking place at schools throughout the state in March and April. It came at no surprise that Georgia got more coverage than any other program in the state after creating tons of excitement within and around the team after playing for the national championship last season.

Looking at the Bulldogs’ spring in short, Jake Fromm remains the Bulldogs starting quarterback. But, Justin Fields, the highly-touted newcomer, got plenty of praise for his strong arm and command of the second-team offense in the G-Day Game, where the UGA defense also put out a solid overall effort.

But what was the news coming out of other Peach State college programs this spring? Well, admittedly I could only tell you a few things before doing some research this week.

Today, I thought maybe a quick look into spring practices at other schools in the state might help bring you up to speed as these teams are just now getting into their summer plans as the next phase in the preparation process for the coming season begins.

So, here goes:

Georgia Tech

Perhaps the biggest news coming from the North Avenue Bee Hive is that the Yellow Jackets finalized a contract extension with head coach Paul Johnson in early April.

Johnson is now signed on as the Jackets’ coach through the 2022 season. How you like that Tech fans?

As you probably know, only legendary coach Bobby Dodd won more games with the Jackets in his first 10 years than Johnson who has won 75 games on the Flats.

On the field, senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall did not play in the spring game due to illness, but sophomore quarterback Lucas Johnson sparkled in his absence, throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown and running for another score.

All told, that triple-option offense looked good, racking up 458 yards between the Blue and White teams with four starting linemen and the starting quarterback missing the game.

Defensively, the Jackets are switching to a 3-4 alignment this year. The defense forced two turnovers in the spring game.

Georgia Southern

Chad Lundsford is now the new head coach for the Eagles after serving as the interim head coach for the second half of the team’s 2017 season.

On offense, quarterback Shai Werts had a good spring and held off his competition for the starting job for now.

There appears to be depth at running back as several players showed promise in spring practice.

The offensive front looks to be much improved under new line coach Ron Hudson.

On defense, the Eagles are still adjusting to the new 3-4 scheme brought in by new defensive coordinator Scot Sloan.

The secondary looks like the strength of the defense with experience in the starting spots and good depth behind them. Joshua Moon is the leader of the pack as a starting safety.

Tyler Bass gives Southern a sure leg as the kicker, but the punting job is still open. One of those competing for the job is redshirt sophomore August Bowers from Glynn Academy.

Mercer

The Bears held 15 practices from mid-March to mid-April at Five Star Stadium.

The team is coming off a 5-6 season that included a 4-4 ledger in the Southern Conference. The highlights of the season were road wins over nationally-ranked opponents Western Carolina and the Citadel.

The Bears return 15 starters from last season including nine who won postseason conference awards.

The focal point of the spring was Mercer’s new offense under Joe Pizzo who head coach Bobby Lamb brought in to be the offensive coordinator.

Pizzo, a 30-year coaching veteran, previously coordinated the offensive at North Greenville (S.C.), an NCAA Division II program, where he led the Crusaders to an average of 408.2 yards per game over five seasons.

Looks like the Bears want to pile on the yards and points this coming season. Here’s thinking they will.

Kennesaw State

The Owls wrapped up their spring session with a competitive game won by the defense (gold team) which defeated the offense (black team) by 35-34.

The game was played with a modified scoring system which gave both sides of the ball an opportunity to earn points.

The defense held the offense to just five first downs and 60 yards in the fourth quarter to pull out a comeback-win.

Head coach Brian Bohannon said he was impressed by several young players who he had his eye on going into the game.

Junior quarterback Daniel David finished 9-for-18 passing for 96 yards and threw a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed for a game-high 70 yards on 13 carries.

On defense, sophomore linebacker Bryson Armstrong, the 2017 FCS Jerry Rice Award winner, finished with six solo tackles and a fumble recovery. Freshman linebacker Kyler Eldridge led all defenders with 10 tackles including seven solo stops.

Freshmen linebackers Demetrius Pettway and Courtney Mills also shined for the defense.

The Owls, in just their third season, finished 12-2 last year, winning the Big South Conference with a perfect 5-0 record before reaching the FCS quarterfinals.

Valdosta State

If you like offense, you might like Blazers football this coming season if the spring game is any indication of what lies ahead for the team in the 2018 campaign.

The Black squad defeated the Red Team 44-31 at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium back on March 3 to bring an end to spring camp.

Both sides combined for seven touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter.

The game ended with quarterback Roland Rivers chunking a pass deep down the middle of the field that was caught by Joe Fortson for a touchdown.

The Blazers are beginning their third season under former Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell. He led the team to an 8-3 record in 2016 before VSU finished 5-4 last fall and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Fort Valley State

Fort Valley finished out a solid spring with its spring game in early April.

The Wildcats have played in the SIAC championship game each of the last two seasons, winning the league championship in 2016 before falling in the title game last fall.

Fort Valley, which is coached by Kevin Porter, returns all 11 starters on offense including all-conference quarterback Slade Jerman.

On defense, the team is looking to replace three key players it lost to graduation – linebacker Cannon Thomas from Glynn Academy, defensive back Karonte Donaldson and lineman Walter Tucker.

Albany State

The Rams announced some new coaches this offseason.

Denares Waites has joined the team as co-defensive coordinator and also will coach safeties. He was previously an assistant at Carson-Newman.

Also, Travian Robertson is the new defensive line coach. He coached previously at Georgia State.

He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons out of South Carolina in 2012. He played two years for the Falcons, was signed in 2014 by the Seattle Seahawks and was later claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins.

So there you have it, spring ball reports from across the state.

And now, I ask this:

Are you ready for some college football?

I think I know the answer.

Kevin Price is a freelance writer for AllOnGeorgia with more than 20 years experience in journalism and communications.

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