Jefferson’s offseason — across the board — has coach Gene Cathcart pleased. But the Dragons are putting in good work, in particular, in the hot summer months.
The team, coming off an 8-3 season, has been busy with padded camps and 7-on-7 competitions since the start of June.
“We’ve had great gains in the weight room and have really come a long way on the field and grown together as a team,” Cathcart said. “I’m extremely excited about the entire offseason, but particularly the summer that we’ve had.”
The third-year coach notes the offensive growth in the Dragons’ triple option scheme, which the team broke in last year and appear to be refining this year.
Jefferson returns two quarterbacks — Colby Clark and Carter Stephenson — with starting experience directing the option offense and a stable of running backs that includes Paxton Corkery (fullback), Kade McNally (fullback), Jacob Thompson (fullback) and Dosha Gaither (slot back).
“Having so many more of those guys back and healthy, we really feel like we’ve had a lot of advancement in the knowledge and the schemes and the execution of our run game,” Cathcart said.
While the padded camps have allowed the Dragons to hone in on their running game, the 7-on-7s have allowed Jefferson to continue to work on its aerial attack. The Dragons tend to throw the ball more frequently than most triple-option teams.
“We really feel that we’ve made considerable strides offensively in both areas,” Cathcart said.
Clark, who started half the year at quarterback before missing multiple weeks due to a knee injury, has drawn praise from Cathcart for his efforts throwing the ball this summer to a younger group of receivers.
“I’ve really never seen Colby throw the ball better,” Cathcart said.
Stephenson, who started the back half of the 2018 schedule with Clark out, has improved his production at the position and increased his speed and strength. Multi-talented athlete Malaki Starks (who can play a number of positions) has also taken snaps under center.
Cathcart said Clark, Stephenson and Starks have improved their arm strength and accuracy.
As far as the new receiving targets, Josh Cochran is enjoying “an outstanding summer.” Nick Evans, Dawson Crawley, Spencer Neese, Trey McEver and Kam Robinson have also drawn praise at the position, while Kolton Jones, Gaither and Starks have caught the ball well out of the backfield. Jordan Perry, Levin Jones and Hunter Blayton have also proven to be receiving threats, as have the team’s fullbacks.
The padded camps have allowed the Dragons to involve their offensive line, where the team is led by Mason Ware returning at center. Colton Dufresne, Hurst Young, Brian Hoback, Cole Patterson and Gage Swilling have also impressed Cathcart this summer along the offensive front.
Meanwhile, the defensive players have held their own at both the padded camps and 7-on-7s which tend to be more offensive friendly set-ups.
“We’ve had a lot of folks show that they’re going to earn considerable playing time,” Cathcart said.
Kadin Bailey has had “an awesome summer” at outside linebacker, according to the coach, as have Neese and Rem Maxwell at linebacker. Cathcart also pointed to Austin Redmon’s play at linebacker.
The team was hit hard by graduation in the secondary but is “growing and learning,” according to Cathcart, at that spot with many of the running backs and receivers doubling as defensive backs.
Along the defensive front, Jaheim Hardy, Nathan Collins and Kade Hamilton have impressed coaches. A number of offensive linemen are getting work on that side of the ball, too.
“It looks like our linemen are going to have to be well-conditioned because they’re going to end up playing a good bit on both sides of the ball,” Cathcart said.
Overall, Cathcart said the grind of the summer between the 7-on-7s, padded camps and the heat has allowed Cathcart to see how this team deals with adversity.
He thinks this team will be strong on that front, too.
“When pressure is applied, will they kind of hang together or will they kind of splinter a little bit?” he said. “One thing Jefferson has always had is that kind of team spirit for years and years, and I think this group is going to be a really strong example of that.”
NOTES: Cathcart made note of a host of other players getting reps in summer:
•Quarterback: Max Aldridge and Mike Sheehan.
•Fullback: Reese Johnson, Hayson Porter and Isaiah Copeland.
•Slot back: Bowman Horn.
•Receiver: Elijah Dewitt and Hop Aldridge.
•Running back: Tre Reece and Xavier Richie.
•Offensive line: Jake Holman, Dylan Ryoul, Michael Holcomb and Bryson Hill.
•Defensive line: A.J. Abbott and Carson Woodward.
Cathcart also said Colton Steele (offensive line), Knox McKinney (defensive line) and Christian Parten (running back) have been dealing with injuries.
As for special teams, Eli Ivey, Owen Botts, Cale Jordan and Levin Jones have been working at placekicker this summer to replace standout kicker Hayden Kilgore, who graduated. Meanwhile, David Stanphill, Carter Isaacs and Josh Cochran are working to replace Seth Glausier, who also graduated.
Cathcart made note of a few staff changes. Wayne McCarty has moved from the head coach of the middle school team to varsity defensive ends coach. Matt Sims, who was the middle school offensive coordinator, is now the middle school head coach. Coleman Cunningham, formerly at Madison County, joins the high school staff as a secondary coach. Cathcart coached with Coleman’s father, Stuart, at Habersham Central.