Standing tall in the trenches


The mission of reaching Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the pursuit of a state championship entails plenty of moving parts fusing to form one solid foundation.

There's no more vital of a unifying force than in the trenches, and the Carrollton High School football team believes it has all the components to put a pair of powerful lines in place on Friday nights this fall.

"I feel like we've built a huge system up front that can take us very far and late in the season. We just need to keep on clicking together and it will all come together," noted Carrollton senior right tackle Kayliek Dunson.

Dunson is one of three returning senior starters on the offensive line for Carrollton, joined by center Ty Murray and left tackle Johnathan Mason. Rounding out the O-line, which is under the direction of assistant coach Chad Blevins, is junior guard Micah Moten, who filled a "sixth man" slot last year by getting plenty of reps, while sophomores Daniel Dukes and Lyndon Cooper are battling for the other guard spot this preseason.

"Some different sizes and some different strengths," third-year Trojan head coach Sean Calhoun said of his O-line. "Some are more athletic than others and some are stronger than others. We've just got to try to fit that puzzle piece together and lock it down."

The Trojans graduated two Division I talents on the offensive front in Cole Williamson (Murray State) and Khalil Crowder (Georgia Southern), but it is still expected to be one of the stronger units on the entire squad, anchored by Murray, a four-year starter and major Division I recruit who has narrowed his college choices down to the University of Virginia and the University of Louisville.

Having that veteran presence up front with some new skill players coming into the fold this fall will be critical in the offense executing up to its potential.

"It's very big because coach wants us to be leaders up front. That's what we've been trying to do all season," Dunson said. "We've been trying to get our chemistry together with the whole offense. As a family, we always stay positive with each other. I think that will take us very far."

On the other side of the line, the Trojans are anxiously awaiting the return of senior standout R.J. Russell getting back to what he does best in serving as a disruptive force in the middle of the D-line.

After going down with an ACL tear in Game 1 of the 2017 season, it's been a strenuous journey back to the field for the athletic big man. But after being cleared to resume football activities this summer and now revved up and ready to go, Russell is hopeful of making a splash in his senior campaign.

"It's just one day at a time. One day at a time of working back into things," Russell said of his recovery process.

It has yet to be determined if Russell will take the field for next Thursday's preseason scrimmage against Bremen, but he will definitely be ready to go for the Aug. 24 West Georgia Kickoff Classic against East Coweta at the University of West Georgia.

Lining up alongside Russell in the Trojans' 3-4 attack will be a pair of highly-touted juniors in Malachi Moten and Robert Johnson. Calhoun labeled Moten, the twin brother of offensive lineman Micah Moten, "the MVP of spring practice," citing how he was nearly unblockable.

Russell has the utmost confidence in both of his D-line contemporaries, helping form what he feels can become the "best defense in AAAAA football."

"I feel like we're awesome. The bond we've got, it's one of the best ones I've ever seen," Russell said. "Malachi is looking amazing and Robert is doing the same as last year. He's going to be awesome. All the other guys, they're fitting in good and getting the flow of things."

One of the priorities of the spring and summer for the Trojan coaching staff, including D-line coaches Michael Hilbert and Fred Ricks, was creating depth on the line of scrimmage in order to keep guys fresh by rotating them in and out.

With that in mind, Carrollton is looking for production from juniors Jalen Cooper and Taye Wortham, sophomores Jaden Johnson, Amiere Williams and Carter Herron and even freshman Darius Branscomb on the D-line this fall.

"With us playing a 3-4 and playing three at a time, we think that we have the ability to play seven to eight guys … You see these really good teams rotating in either full units or individuals and just keeping them fresh. It's always good to have depth at those spots. If you can disrupt the line of scrimmage, you've got a chance," Calhoun said.

One of the favorite days of the year took place on Wednesday for the Trojan linemen — they were finally able to suit up in full pads.

"It was amazing. With the season coming up and our first game next week, we were all excited, happy and positive," Dunson said. "We're just ready to show these fans what we've been doing all summer."

As the journey of a long season sets into motion, the Trojan linemen understand they're going to have to overcome some bumps in the road to reach their ultimate destination.

"The biggest thing is keeping our composure. There's going to be some bad things that happen over the course of the season, but we just need to bounce back from it. Our coaches have trained us this whole summer for stuff like that and how to handle adversity. I think we'll handle it well," Dunson said.

Because for Carrollton's senior linemen, they realize this marks their final stand representing the Black and Gold.

"I just want to leave a legacy with the people in my class this year. We want to leave our mark on this program," Dunson said.

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