BY COREY CUSICK THE TIMES-GEORGIAN
Following a spring of mixing and matching, the Carrollton High School football team is focused on locking down its defensive depth chart during the course of the summer.
There are a handful of positions that require little discussion as to who will be penciled in as the opening-night starter when you've got guys such as Kevin Swint, Reid Dedman and Chaz Chambliss returning, along with R.J. Russell hopefully back to 100 percent by the time the 2018 campaign rolls around.
But elsewhere you'll have guys jockeying to either retain or climb into starting roles as the heat and intensity dials up come June.
"We're looking to create depth, but just playing physical and playing fast. If we can get those guys not thinking and just reacting and playing and being physical, that's what we want," third-year Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. "When somebody throws on the film of Carrollton's defense, what are they going to see? They're going to see sound, fast and physical. We're going to be sound in what we do. There's a reason why we do it and we're going to be very, very physical."
Spearheading that charge are a pair of former Times-Georgian All-Area Defensive Player of the Year selections in Dedman, who returns to serve as the quarterback of the defense at strong safety for his senior season, along with Swint, another three-year starter who returns at outside linebacker for his junior campaign.
Calhoun said both Dedman and Swint have really stepped up in their leadership roles this offseason and he anticipates that to evolve even further this summer.
"Reid is going to play football in college. He's already got a Charleston Southern offer and a Jacksonville offer and I think more offers are coming. His biggest attribute is he's so intelligent," Calhoun said. "He's super-high GPA, real high test score kid, SAT score. He just plays it. That translates from the classroom to the field. Very athletic kid and is a good student of the game.
"Kevin is more of the vocal leader of the defense. He's taken a big ownership in that defense. He wants it to be the best in our region and the best in the state. That's kind of what they want to hang their hat on. Last year he played a little more defensive end than outside linebacker when we lost R.J. Russell to fill that gap a little bit. So him doing that helped him. We played him a little bit inside this spring so he could learn more of the defense. He's another very, very intelligent football player and he has obviously got some gifts."
Chambliss, another Division I prospect, enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign and he's hungry to make even more of an impact this fall with a full season under his belt.
"Chaz is not the vocal guy, but Chaz is certainly a lead-by-example type guy," Calhoun said. "He's learning and learning from Kevin. We put him at an inside linebacker position all this spring just to get some other guys reps outside and to get him reps inside so he can know more of the overall defense. He's very gifted skill-wise, strength-wise. All of these guys love the weight room. Reid, Kevin and Chaz are all just really good students, too."
Russell, the Trojans' dynamic defensive lineman, suffered a torn ACL in the 2017 season opener against Newnan and it pretty much derailed his entire year sans for a few games. He underwent surgery in November and is hopeful of being ready to suit up for the opener of his senior season.
"He's going to see the doctors again the first of June. I don't anticipate anything that's going to hinder him from the season opener versus East Coweta. I don't exactly know about the scrimmage yet versus Bremen. Obviously, we're not going to push it," Calhoun said. "He's done a fantastic job of rehabbing, which I knew he would. That's just kind of how he attacks everything is full speed ahead. I think he's going to come back stronger than ever. He's another one that's going to play football on Saturdays. He's just a great kid to be around."
As the D-line awaits Russell's return, a trio of rising juniors are holding things down with Malachi Moten, Travis Lockhart and Robert Johnson providing plenty of pop in the Trojan trenches, while Jaden Johnson is an underclassmen that is also expected to contribute and provide depth to the defensive front.
"I don't know if surprise is the right word, but a real bright spot has been Malachi Moten. We can't block him. He had a heck of a spring," Calhoun said. "Him and Travis Lockhart, they have had outstanding springs. They have really worked hard in the weight room and both did a great job during spring practice."
Along with Swint and Chambliss returning in the middle of the defense, the Trojans also feature a quality trio at inside linebacker in Jacob Cotton, Brock Bibbee and Jerius Edwards.
Swint was encouraged by what he saw from the defense during the spring and expects it to spill over into a productive summer.
"The chemistry is still there. We've just got to keep playing, keep executing and keep being aggressive," Swint said. "That's one of the main things we talk about. The defensive staff wants us to be aggressive every time we go to the ball and attack, create turnovers and get third-down stops."
Chambliss believes the Trojans will feature more versatility on the defensive side of the ball this fall since so many guys can play multiple positions.
"They've really stepped up and learned the role of the position and getting everybody more connected as a team," Chambliss said. "Toward the end of spring, we started talking more and connecting and just getting our blitzes and packages down pat."
The Trojan secondary will feature plenty of new faces with Dedman and Charlie Lanier serving as the key returnees.
Calhoun anticipates a three-man rotation at cornerback with Itheddius "Theo" Banks, a move-in from Skipstone Academy in Griffin, serving as a viable option, along with Derrick Witherspoon, Jr. and Lanier, a returning starter who can play both corner and safety.
Cyrus McClure and rising freshman Terrell Carmichael also got reps in the Trojan secondary this spring, and Calhoun said the young ninth-grade talent has the potential to be a prolific play-maker in more than one phase of the game.
"We know what (Carmichael) can do on the offensive side of the ball, so we wanted to kind of see what he can do on the defensive side of the ball during the spring," Calhoun said. "He did a fantastic job. He's just a tremendous athlete. The future is so bright for that kid."
As both a team leader and catalyst of the defense, Dedman is focused on doing everything he can to make his senior season the best one yet following back-to-back trips to the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals over the past two seasons.
Dedman started at outside linebacker as a sophomore and moved into the secondary last fall and is excited about what's in store for one last run in Black and Gold.
"My senior year, my last year, I'm going to give it all I've got," Dedman said. "I've definitely got to evolve into a leader and show everybody the way to do it."
One aspect of that leadership was having all the troops fired up and ready to go bright and early during the spring with early-morning practices before school.
"It was a grind waking up at 5:30 and coming to practice everyday," Dedman said. "We just had to push through it and make us better."
With Thursday marking exactly three months to the date of the Aug. 24 season opener against East Coweta, the Trojans have already started their summer slate, hitting the field this past Monday through Thursday. They'll take next week off before ramping it back up the first week of June with a padded camp at Bremen on June 6-7 against the Blue Devils, Troup and Rockmart. Following another padded camp the next week against Milton, Carrollton will hit the 7-on-7 circuit at Corky Kell, Auburn University and McEachern High School leading up to the GHSA-mandated "Dead Week."
From there, the Trojans will host a two-day padded camp with Houston County, West Forsyth and Grayson and take one final week off before the start of official practice.
So as the push toward the 2018 kickoff settles in, the Trojans are ready to get to work and begin laying the foundation for another run at the state crown.
"As long as we stay in the brotherhood and stay tight during the summer, keep executing the things that we've been coached to do and just keep playing hard and hustling around, we'll be all right," Swint said. "We've just got to keep busting our tails and get after it all summer long."