For the the Sandy Creek Patriots, the only real question in 2013 is motivation.
You can talk about the kicking game – the Patriots just graduated Mitchell McMillin, perhaps the best kicker and punter in school history – or the offensive line, where they sustained the biggest losses of any position group.
But they return the bulk of the skilled players who rolled up 660 points and 6,354 total yards in 2012.
So the question is motivation. For that, head coach Chip Walker is leaning on selective memory. He’d like his players to forget 2012. He’d like them to remember 2011, when they fell to Gainesville in the state quarterfinals.
“A lot of these guys started on that 2011 team,” Walker said. “So they remember what it was like. A bunch of those guys played and played a lot. At the spring game when it was over the other day, I was talking to them about preparing for next season. You don’t want that feeling like we had in 2011 to be the last one you have when you walk off the feel your senior year.”
Everything else looks positive heading into 2013. QB Cole Garvin is back, having passed for 2,740 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.
“He’s the son of a coach and he understands the offense. He really grew and developed into that last year, and I expect more of that this year,” Walker said. “He’s talented first of all. He can make every throw in the book. He’s such a good manager of the game, calm, and he understands what we want to do.”
Junior RBs Eric Swinney (1,414 yards, 23 TDs) and Delvin Weems (1,138, 18) are back, as is WR Demarre Kitt, who compiled 1,236 receiving yards and 11 TDs.
Even with the losses on the line, it could be the biggest the Patriots have had since Walker joined the staff at the Tyrone school.
“Depth along both lines of scrimmage was the big thing we wanted to find out,” Walker said. “We wanted to find some linemen on both sides. Obviously our skilled guys may be as good as they’ve ever been. We just had to make sure we had some guys on both sides of the lines of scrimmage that stepped up a little bit. We think we found that. We may be as big as we’ve ever been been on offensive line. Everybody up front is going to be 6-2 or better, a couple of 270 pounders and a 300-pounder.”
The losses of McMillin and CB Shaq Wiggins may pose the biggest challenges. Walker said the team likely won’t have one player handling both kicking and punting duties.
DL Chris Williams and LB Khari Lain will anchor the defense. Williams, who has offers from mutliple SEC and ACC schools, had more than 80 tackles last year. Lain, who has offers from Tulane and Memphis, finished with more than 100 tackles.
“We’re extremely blessed,” Walker said. “We’re going to go out there next year and every one of our skilled guys that plays is going to have a D-I offer. They’re all great kids, they all work hard. They all bought into the fact that this is an offense, it’s a team, it’s a team game. Everybody’s success helps the other one, and they all understand that.”
Sandy Creek Patriots
2012 record: 15-0, won Class AAAA state championship
Starters returning: 7 offense; 5 defense
Key players lost: WR Kyle Wilson, DB Shaq Wiggins, OL Alan Knott, K Mitchell McMillin
Key players returning: QB Cole Garvin, RB Eric Swinney, RB Delvin Weems, WR Demarre Kitt, DL Chris Williams, LB Khari Lain, WR Justin Sumpter
Schedule: Aug. 30 Banneker, Sept. 6 Newnan, Sept. 13 at East Coweta, Sept. 27 at Fayette County, Oct. 4 Troup County, Oct. 11 at Shaw, Oct. 18 Alexander, Oct. 25 LaGrange, Nov. 1 at Carrollton, Nov. 9 at Columbus.
Outlook: With three state championships in the past four years and most of their skilled players coming back, there’s little to indicate the Patriots will slow down this fall.