By David Purdum / For the AJC
On Nov. 1, No. 2 Carrollton hosts No. 1 Sandy Creek in the game of the year in AAAA. But Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague isn’t sure that either of those Region 5 rivals is the best team in the classification.
“I think people are putting too much stock into either Sandy Creek or us and not putting enough stock into a Griffin or a Monroe Area,” said Teague. “I think it’s wide open. I think the competition in AAAA is way up this year. “
Teague’s Trojans are 5-0, heading into a tough Thursday game at Troup. Teague is in his 12th season at Carrollton. He visited with me this week about what he believes is the most talented team he’s had at Carrollton and how AAAA might posses the most talent of any classification.
Q: What stands out to you about this year’s team?
Teague: It does have the most Division-I caliber athletes that we’ve had on one teams since I’ve been here. We’ve got five that’s already committed, and there’s a couple more that has a chance to play at that level. Probably from projected Division I athletes, we have more than normal. A lot of our really good teams have had zero or maybe one or two, but to have five-plus, that’s something new for us. This past winter was pretty hectic around here.
(The five Carrollton players committed to Division I schools are: DT Dontavius Russell, Georgia, TE Cole Cook, NC State, OT Jake Sanders, Duke, P/K Tyler Newsome, Notre Dame, DE Brandon Walton, Appalachian State).
Q: Your talent seems very equally distributed throughout your team. Is this your most balanced team as well as your most talented?
Teague: We knew offensively that we’d be pretty good this year. We had nine starters coming back. We felt like the offensive line would be one of our strengths. We played without four starters on offensive line against Oxford, and were without three of them against Chappell Hill. We didn’t get the full starting lineup in there until two weeks ago when we played Columbus.
Defensively, we graduated six guys, on the defensive line in particular. What we ended up doing was rolling some of those offensive guys to the defensive side of the ball; either doing away with them on offense or alternating them on offense.
The kicking game last year, the kickers did a great job, but the kicking team units kind of let us down. We fumbled the ball in the kicking game against Calhoun several times and it cost us. We gave up a kickoff return and a long punt against Oxford, and it cost us. In the Sandy Creek game last year, we had two snaps go over our head and it cost us. This year, they’ve been really solid. Of course, we put a lot of work into it. We have some experience back.
Q: Eight different players have scored rushing touchdowns this season. Three players—Trey Chivers, Malik Sheppard and Jarvis Terrell—have more than 300 yards rushing. How do you get everyone involved?
Teague: That’s one reason we’re in the wing-T, so we can spread it around. Both wing backs and our fullback get the ball. The fullback is usually the featured back in the wing-T, but in this year’s version, all three are capable of doing the work, so we’ve been able to mix it up well there.
Our quarterback, Will Garrett, has done a great job throwing the quarterback, and we have some guys doing a great job of catching the football. We’ve been able to be a lot more balanced.
Q: You have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. What’s impressed you the most about your defense so far?
Teague: Our kids have really taken well to the coaching, playing pretty good technique. We’ve got some size up front. We’re not huge, but we’ve got some decent size up front. The secondary we thought was going to be a strength and it has been. We’ve got some depth back there, some kids have come through. Malik Sheppard is a three-year starter at strong safety, so he’s got a lot of big-game experience.
The secondary play has been solid, which has helped us against the run, because the fact that we can actually lock people down on the backend, allows us to do more up front. We’re playing 3-4 and 4-3. We’re probably more of a zone (coverage) team than we are a man team, but we’re able to get some more people down in the box and involved in the run when necessary because we’re not scared of the matchups outside.
We actually have three corners that alternate in there. Taylor Johnson and DeAntoine Cammons are the two returning starters. Johnson was hurt and didn’t play in the first three or four games. Another young man, Dante Wigley, came on and had a pick-six the other night. He’s done a great job. So now we have two to make three.
Q: It’s three weeks before the Sandy Creek game, the biggest game of the year in the classification. How do you approach the build-up to that game?
Teague: If we don’t do what we’re supposed to weekly, it won’t be such a big game when we get there. Obviously, this week against Troup, they’ve established themselves as a legit threat. They tested Sandy Creek last week. Within this region, Troup, LaGrange and those folks we still have to play.
Our main thing is to try to stay healthy, but continue to try to get bigger, stronger, faster in the weight room and on the track. Try to continue to get more and more physical, without getting them busted up at the same time. So that we can be at our best when we do play the better teams
The playoff bracket, I don’t think there is a good one from where we’re coming from. I think first or second has their work cut out for them. The two seed has a really tough bracket that the way it’s shaping up right now, it looks like our second-place team could run into an undefeated Monroe Area team in the second round. And our first-place team runs into an undefeated Griffin team in the third round. Either way, you’re going to play the top teams probably before you even get to the semifinals. It’s a tough bracket.
I think AAAA has a really good, competitive field. I think there are probably six or seven teams that could beat anybody on any given night.
Q: If you look around AAAA, an argument could be made that this classification has as much or more college talent than any other classification. Agree?
Teague: If you look at it, obviously AAAAAA has the numbers, but year in and year out, AAAA is like that. I think it’s the size of the schools, where you still have a lot of the larger community schools that are involved in it, and those are the towns that are involved in it and put a lot of emphasis on it, have great tradition and support. The kids really buy into it, and that’s where you’re talent is developed at the very best. It seems like AAAA is always that way.
Q: How would you define the rivalry between Sandy Creek and Carrollton?
Teague: We’ve had some very competitive, but they’ve come up on the winning side three of the four meetings. We’ve only won once, so I don’t know if it’s a rivalry until the series is even. Right now, they’ve been able to whip us in the majority of the meetings.
The games have been close. We beat them in the first meeting. They turned around and beat us in a pretty close game the second time. Of course, the third time was for the state championship and they beat us with us fumbling on the six-inch line.
Last year, they had their way with us. They were better than us. We were young, inexperienced. They hammered us pretty good, even though the score was 30-7. It was close into the first half, until the two bad snaps. It was still a pretty dominating performance by them. I thought they were by far the best team in the state last year and played like it. The offense that they have coming back, with the skill kids they got, they’ve got to be the heads-on favorite. I don’t know if anyone can stop them. You might can slow them down a little bit, but you’re not going to stop them.
The question mark is about the defense, but, without two or three of their better kids, but when they get them all back, they’re still going to be Sandy Creek. They’re going to be fundamentally sound, fast, aggressive, strong. They’re going to be hard to dethrone.
I still wonder about Griffin, as well. My eyes are on Griffin, Monroe Area, Sandy Creek and then I never count out Marist. Obviously, Statesboro and Wayne County have good teams, and Burke County has (QB Donquell) Green. He keeps them right in the middle of everything. There are seven or eight teams that can eek their way into it. I think Stockbridge has a good team. But probably the team I’ve been most intrigued with so far has probably been Griffin. I know what kind of athletes they have and what they had last year and what they do offensively and defensively and so I’m intrigued by them a lot. And Monroe Area has as good of skill players as anyone in the state, and they have some size and experience coming back. The question with them is what their defensive unit was going to do, because offensively they can play with anybody. Now, you say all that and then Marist consistently knocks off teams and works their way through the bracket.