Central Gwinnett football out to improve on 2013 season
By Will Hammock firstname.lastname@example.org
There were plenty of swing moments during Central Gwinnett’s 2013 football season.
The Black Knights led Brookwood and Grayson at halftime. They had a good shot to beat Parkview. All three ended up as losses by less than 10 points, which pretty much summed up a slide to a 2-8 season that could have been much better.
“We lost those close games and those are the moments we need somebody to take over, make a play, rally the guys together,” Central head coach Todd Wofford said. “We just didn’t get over the hump in those games. You’ve got to make plays when you can and we didn’t do it.”
Until last season, Central made a steady climb in Wofford’s tenure, culminating in a 6-4 record in 2012. But graduation losses hit hard, both in terms of talent and leadership, leaving plenty of new faces in the lineup last season.
The biggest losses included record-breaking quarterback Eman Westmoreland and wide receiver Justin Brownlee, along with defensive leader Trey Johnson, now a linebacker at Ohio State. Filling those voids wasn’t easy, and their loss hurt the most in the close region games last season.
Now in the middle of summer passing league activities, Wofford feels much better about this team in terms of both experience and leadership.
“There were key moments in tough game where we were missing that spark because we were missing those guys last year,” Wofford said. “You don’t realize what you’re missing until they’re not there. … We’ve done a lot of leadership stuff this offseason and they’ve ran with that. They’re legit leaders, not just seniors. We have underclassmen leading by example. That’s what made this the best spring for me because of their attitude more than anything.
“The biggest thing we have to do this season is get back to what got us going in the right direction and that starts with leadership. It starts with the senior class.”
The leadership piece excites Wofford because he also knows this team has very good talent returning.
The roster includes highly touted recruits Adonis Thomas, Nigel Adams and E.J. Price, all major college prospects. Thomas, a star at linebacker, also made plays as a receiver last season as a junior despite some hamstring issues. Adams, a running back who also will play linebacker this year, and Price, a big offensive tackle, are both juniors.
The move of Adams to defense bolsters a group that includes returners Omar Lopez, Deshawn Oliver, Greg McPherson, Tim Gary and Marchel Jackson.
The offense, always a strength with Wofford’s up-tempo style, took a step back last season. Central was held to 15 points or fewer in seven games and didn’t have a lot of highlights, except for a 41-point showing against South Gwinnett, a playoff team.
Unlike last season, the Black Knights return an experienced quarterback in Eric Forrest. Forrest, new to the program last season, played solidly in a new system. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,805 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“(Forrest) came from a traditional power scheme, so he was getting used to the system and to Gwinnett football at the same time,” Wofford said. “We were coming off having a three-year starter (in Westmoreland) who knew what I was thinking 90 percent of the time and we went to having a guy who was new to everything we were doing. But I can’t say enough about Eric’s improvement this offseason.
“He’s expecting a big season and we’re expecting a big season out of him. He’s 210 (pounds) now. A lot of college coaches came in just to see him this spring. Physically, he’s college ready. He had a great offseason in the weight room. He’s a powerful guy. He just had to get used to me as a coach, too. I’m hard on the quarterbacks.”
Forrest will have some playmakers surrounding him, starting with Adams in the backfield. The wideouts are strong, too, with Chris Shelling, Major Bellamy and Azaviar Kuffour.
Price returns on the offensive front, as do Marcellous Cooper and Omari Jackson.
“We want to get back to doing what we want to do on offense and get that tone,” Wofford said.
Team: Central Gwinnett Black Knights
Head coach: Todd Wofford
2013 record: 2-8
Key returning players: LB Adonis Thomas, Sr.; QB Eric Forrest, Sr.; WR Chris Shelling, Sr.; RB Nigel Adams, Jr.; WR Major Bellamy, Jr.; WR Azaviar Kuffour, Jr.; OL E.J. Price, Jr.; DE Omar Lopez, Sr.; DB Deshawn Oliver, Sr.; DT Greg McPherson, Sr.
Aug. 29 at Collins Hill
Sept. 5 Mundy’s Mill
Sept. 12 at South Gwinnett
Sept. 19 Shiloh
Oct. 3 at Dacula
Oct. 10 Brookwood
Oct. 17 at Grayson
Oct. 24 Archer
Oct. 31 at Parkview
Nov. 7 Berkmar