BY COREY CUSICK THE TIMES-GEORGIAN
As Sean Calhoun watched thousands of yards stroll across the graduation stage this past May, it marked a passing of the torch for the Carrollton High School football program.
The third-year Trojan head coach is in the process of replacing a plethora of play-makers and multi-year starters on the offensive side of the ball, creating plenty of in-house competition this summer to see who emerges into those leading roles for the Black and Gold heading toward the 2018 season.
One of the most compelling position battles brewing is at quarterback, where three quality candidates roll into the summer slate pushing one another for the top spot on the depth chart.
Carrollton graduated three-year starter Mark Wright, who missed a good chunk of his senior season due to injury. Sophomore southpaw Kashif Taylor stepped in and took the reins, helping lead the Trojans to the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals for a second straight season, throwing for 642 yards and eight touchdowns down the stretch of the season.
Now as a rising junior, Taylor held the No. 1 spot on the depth chart through spring, although he has a pair of challengers on his heels in Sandy Creek transfer Garrison Hand, a rising senior with several Division I offers, and Pace Academy transfer Myles Morris, one of the top-ranked signal-callers for the Class of 2022 in the state of Georgia.
"Going into the spring you've got to have a depth chart and Kashif was our No. 1 going into the spring and it was his job to lose or somebody else to step up and take it. Leaving spring and entering summer, he is our No. 1 right now," Calhoun said. "But I tell you what, the other two, rising senior Garrison Hand and rising ninth-grader Myles Morris, they have done a really good job of picking everything up quick and just trying to learn as fast as they can.
"All three of them bring really good things to the table. We are excited about them. If we need to play them all, we'll play them all. If there's a guy that's got the hot hand, we're going to roll with him. They're going to get a lot of competition this summer and the depth chart can always change. So we're excited about those three."
The Trojan backfield also saw an incredible talent move on to the next level, as workhorse Jaylan Thomas took his talents to Elon University after rushing for 1,760 yards on 178 carries — averaging 9.8 yards per tote — during his senior campaign.
Junior tailback Kodee Brewer is poised to follow in Thomas' footsteps and shoulder the load for the Carrollton ground game, and he'll have plenty of help from the likes of Brandon Marenco, Kaleb Thomaston and move-in Montarious Banks.
"With Jaylan, he was a 30-carry guy. If we can find a guy to do that or if we've got to do it by committee, that's good, too. We'll just keep them fresh," Calhoun said. "Heck, look how good the University of Georgia did with multiple backs. So there's something to be said for that. But coming out of spring, Kodee Brewer is our No. 1. He had a heck of a spring and we're just expecting big things from him. He's such a hard worker and does such a great job for us. I'm glad he's on our side, for sure."
Brewer saw plenty of varsity action last fall and provided a formidable complement to Thomas. Now working to become the featured back in the Trojan attack, Brewer is confident in taking over that responsibility.
"I played a lot with Jaylan last year, so I feel like he taught me a lot and he wanted me to do more things that he did last year. He was a great player and I'm expecting to pick up that role and fill in his shoes," Brewer said.
Carrollton features a good bit of experience on the O-line, led by guard and four-year starter Ty Murray. The major Division I recruit has several offers on the table and will serve as the bellcow of the blue-collar big guys up front.
The Trojans also return Kayliek Dunson, Johnathan Mason and Micah Moten in the trenches after losing Khalil Crowder (Georgia Southern) and Cole Williamson (Murray State) to graduation.
Calhoun is also looking for production from some younger guys, including Daniel Dukes and Lyndon Cooper, who are both rising sophomores.
"We feel like we've got a solid group of seniors, but then after that there's a lot of young kids," Calhoun said. "Hopefully, our leadership will step up and kind of show them the way of how we do things. You can't have enough of them. That's for sure."
Another versatile and valuable component will be rising junior sniffer/tight end Chase Sippola, who brings an element of physicality to the Trojan offense.
Sippola thought the spring was a step in the right direction, but he said there's still plenty of work to do this summer.
"We just wanted to get our first contact in and see how everybody did," Sippola said. "We wanted to see how physical we were and just get a feel for our run game a little bit. We're coming along and getting better every day. We've still got some work to do, but we'll get there."
Regardless of who wins the starting job at quarterback or whether multiple guys get reps, they'll have a mix of old and new targets on the perimeter.
Senior wideout Isaiah Lancaster is the top returning receiver after hauling in 38 receptions for 464 yards and four touchdowns last fall, while Dalton Benefield and Jordan Bonner (Purdue) will be missed as multi-year starters.
That's where some of the younger talent will have to step up and join forces with Lancaster and Miles McClendon, who saw plenty of time under the Friday night lights last fall when Bonner was out due to injury.
Calhoun is looking to evaluate guys such as Steven Slappey, Montravious McDaniel, Austin Waldrop, Nate Moore, Michael Sullivan, Virgil Brewer and Sippola over the summer to round out the receiving corps.
"We're definitely going to have some new names in that area with losing some kids to graduation," Calhoun said. "We feel good, but we're going to be young, which is good and bad. We feel good in our OC/receiver coach John Cooper. He does a fantastic job. He'll get those guys right and hopefully we won't be missing a beat."
Lancaster is hopeful of going out with a bang in his senior season and becoming a big-play threat in the passing attack.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes for our passing game to be successful. If that's getting up early in the morning and running hills, I'll do it," Lancaster said. "But we've got three good quarterbacks and we've got good receivers. So our passing game should be solid, even better than last year."
The Trojans returned to the field on Monday following a week off and they'll dive right back into the thick of things with a two-day padded camp at Bremen on Wednesday and Thursday, along with another padded camp at Milton next week before sprinkling in some 7-on-7 tournaments and team workouts leading up through July.
With the in-house competition marking one of the major themes for Carrollton football this summer, the Trojans also want to focus on banding together as brothers in becoming a selfless group with its eye on the ultimate prize.
"We've got to become more of a family. We've got to become a team and not have any of the 'I' stuff. We've got to care for each other and not ourselves," Lancaster said.