Source: Gwinnett Prep Sports
The Peachtree Ridge offense last season was a struggle all around. Only 72 points were scored for the entire season, the second-fewest in program history.
Luckily for the Lions, first-year head coach Matt Helmerich knows a thing or two about scoring points. Helmerich was the head coach at Johns Creek for the past five years and helped them eclipse 400 points scored in three of those five seasons.
Leading the show on offense will likely be senior quarterback Hunter Sheppard, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound move-in from South Carolina. Sheppard has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his high school career and is expecting to do big things for the Lions in 2022.
“We’re running a spread RPO and like to sling it,” Helmerich said. “We have athletes all over the place. I think Hunter is excited to get those guys the football and turn them loose a little bit.”
Junior wide receiver Myles Abernathy, senior wide receiver A.J. Bonds, and junior Jeremiah Colbert are expected to be three of Sheppard’s biggest targets for the upcoming season. Abernathy was an All-Region receiver last year as a sophomore.
Helmerich raved about the Lions’ team speed and expects that to be a huge factor this season.
“I think speed is probably our biggest strength,” Helmerich said. “The track team had a great spring. I’m anxious to see these guys run around a little bit. I think the offense is going to be fun to watch. This spread offense is designed to put up many points, get the ball in space and turn these athletes loose.”
All of that will be helped by an experienced offensive line. Senior Luke Fitts will captain the line at center while senior guard Declan Mears, senior tackle Torianno Thomas and sophomore tackle Adrian Guerrero also are keys on the offensive line.
The Lions will lack experience on defense this season. Aside from senior defensive end John Dutton, the entire front seven is new.
While it has been a challenge to piece together a starting lineup on defense for Helmerich and his staff, he said that while they lack the experience, they make up for it with athleticism and potential.
All-in-all, the Lions graduated seven defensive linemen from last year’s team.
“We have some guys with some talent and some motors,” Helmerich said. “They just have to learn the game and get better. There’s nobody outside of John that started last year in the front seven, so that’s a work in progress.”
Junior Darius Wallace and senior Ashton Bridwell are set to take over two of the starting linebacker jobs. Wallace, who stands at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, put on 20 pounds over the offseason and Bridwell is a newcomer to football. He was recruited from the Peachtree Ridge baseball team.
The strong point of the Lion defense will come from the secondary. Just like the speed at receiver, the Lions will have speed in the secondary and that has Helmerich excited.
Jordan Ghant will play safety for the Lions and will also see some time on offense at wide receiver.
Helmerich brings a winning mentality to a Peachtree Ridge football program in desperate need of a jumpstart. After an 11-year run from 2006-16 that saw the Lions win a state championship and qualify for the state playoffs nine times, they have advanced to the playoffs just one time since.
After helping Johns Creek reach the state quarterfinals last season in Class AAAAAA, Helmerich is ready to help revive the Peachtree Ridge program and get it back to what it was just a few short years ago.
“I think (I’m the guy),” Helmerich said in regards to helping get the program back to its glory days. “I’m sure these guys are tired of hearing about how good Peachtree Ridge used to be. The pieces are there. It’s a great community. There’s a reason I left a pretty good program to come to Peachtree Ridge. I think it’s a hidden gem. Great kids, great community and great administration. That’s kind of what you need to build a great program.”
While Helmerich hopes his team won’t have to punt the ball very much in 2022, the Lions will be in very good hands when they need to. Senior Ahmed Mohammed will serve as the Lions’ punter — he is ranked as the No. 18 punter in the nation. Mohammed will also handle the kicking duties.
The Lions will play out of Region 7-AAAAAAA in 2022 with the rest of region consisting of Norcross, North Gwinnett, Meadowcreek, Duluth, Discovery and Berkmar.