Source: Gwinnett Prep Sports
Since he took over as Peachtree Ridge's head coach, Reggie Stancil has watched a young group of Lions take its share of lumps over the last three seasons.
But in 2020, he is hopeful and confident that this year's team, in particular the senior class, is ready to give a few back.
“We feel really good about these guys.” Stancil said. “This is a group of guys that we started with as freshmen, and they've done a really good job of hanging together.”
In particular, the Lions will look to a senior-laden offensive line, led by returning starters Alex Carman at center, Amari McNeil at tackle and Cameron Ellerby at guard, along with fellow senior Matthew Webster, who stepped in at the other guard position after an injury to another starter a year ago, to pave the way.
The quarterback that line will protect will come from a pair of candidates, both of whom contributed as juniors a year ago.
Kyle Kingsbury put up the better numbers, throwing for 1,025 yards and 6 touchdowns on 94 of 178 passing, though both he and Nick Best figure to be in better position to produce this season after three years in the Peachtree Ridge offensive system.
“Just an extra year being in the offense and understanding everything we're trying to do offensively is huge,” Stancil said of both signal callers.
While one of the team's top receivers from last season is gone after Isaiah Kyle moved with his family to Florida, the Lions do welcome back two of the team's other top receivers from a year ago in Brandon Wright and Michael Hernandez, as well as fellow senior Jamiu Williams.
The receiver corps gains added depth with Jakobe Bae coming out for the team for the first time since his freshman season, and the added length and athleticism of 6-foot-4 Brice Curtis and 6-6 Jairus Griffin from the Peachtree Ridge basketball program.
Last year's leading rusher Brandon Cade is back at running back, as is Nehemiah Laniyonu, while junior Allante Burley mans the tight end position.
As many familiar faces as the offense has heading into the 2020 campaign, the Peachtree Ridge defense may be even more experienced.
Sure a few key pieces are missing with the graduation of leading tackler Keith Gabbidon and top cornerbacks Corey Collins and Justin Brown, and a few others, as many as eight different players who saw significant playing time last year are back.
“We're missing some key parts to last year's team,” Stancil said. “We had some really good leaders (graduate), but we do have a core of those guys back that we're excited about. I think we have more options than we've had before on the defensive side of the ball.”
Chief among those options are the lone returning starter on the defensive line in senior tackle Jaylen Madden, as well as veteran linebackers Carlos Fuller, Caleb Banks and Malachi Smith.
The line will also be bolstered by the return of a healthy Glenn Lukusa, who moves to defensive end after contributing at linebacker last year before his season was ended by an injury.
“He's an unbelievable leader for us,” Stancil said of Lukusa. “He reminded us of (graduated senior) Jalen Lee. So we've got some exciting young guys that are pretty good football players that will also help a lot.”
Some of those exciting players will contribute in the secondary, where there are two openings at the corners, though one of them will likely be filled by an experienced senior in Kyle Brown, who started at safety a year ago.
The other corner spot could get a boost from junior Titus Pitts, a transfer from Tucker, while junior Amari Banks returns with a year's worth of experience at strong safety after being thrown into the fire last year. Cortlin Tatum mans the other safety spot.
The Lions will have some big shoes — or at least one big shoe — to fill in the kicking game with the graduation of two-time all-county kicker and punter Albert Jang, who is now a freshman at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Junior Eddie Park already has some experience after backing up Jang last season, while sophomore Ahmad Muhammad could also see action at either position. … The Lions have gone three straight seasons without making the state playoffs, the longest such drought since the program's first three seasons of existence when the school opened in 2000. However, Stancil is confident his team is the best equipped in terms of talent and experience since he took over to find its way back to the postseason this year. “In any program, when a new (coach) takes over, the biggest thing is getting the kids to believe and to understand the system that you're doing offensively and defensively,” Stancil said. “We do play in a tough region, and that has something to do with it. But at the end of the day, you put your kids, who have been doing something for a long time, with other kids, and we're going to have a chance. We're in that mode. This is our fourth year here, so these guys have been doing the same thing four years. That more reps on things, the better you're going to be. That's why we feel really good about this group.”