The Canes lost their first two games in pool play, and without the team’s starting quarterback and three top receivers from the 2013 runner-up squad, Cartersville had its back against the wall.
However, the Canes rallied, winning four of the their next five pool games to advance to the double elimination tournament stage, where they would ultimately record an impressive fifth place finish in the highly competitive tournament.
“I told the kids, ‘It’s all about how you respond to adversity,’ and I thought they responded very well,” Cartersville head coach Joey King said of his team’s performance in the tournament. “We started off slow, just getting our feet wet, but once we got into a groove, we did really well. This was some quality competition. We did some good things.”
Cartersville also finished in fifth place during the UGA 7-on-7 tournament earlier this summer, but that was a 16-team tournament. The Southeastern 7-on-7 was a 32-team tournament featuring top teams from Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri.
King was impressed by his defense at the event.
“Honestly, I thought our defense played very well those first two games,” he said. “Offensively, we didn’t get into a rhythm. We missed some passes we should hit. Defensively, we played good enough to win and, in 7-on-7s, if you play good enough to win defensively, you should win, and we didn’t, but we responded well and accepted the challenge.”
Specifically, Cartersville’s linebacking corps showed its chops and may very well be a strength come Cartersville’s first game on Aug. 29. Senior linebacker Jahir Camps was particularly impressive, a positive sign for the Canes after Camp’s season ended prematurely in 2013 due to a shoulder injury.
“Jahir Camps was flying over all over the place,” King said. “Tiamon Pennymon ran around at linebacker. Auston Davis, Trevor Carlton, the linebacking corps did a good job.”
However, the secondary is still a work in progress, according to King, after the graduation of safety Mark Quattlebaum and cornerback Devin Henderson.
However, senior safety Bryce Gober did have three interceptions in the tournament.
“Bryce Gober in the secondary was pretty consistent with his calls and giving us leadership. We’re still trying to develop a little bit of consistency at corner,” King said. “It’s still kind of a spot that’s up in the air. We have the athletes. It’s just the consistency that we’re looking for. It’s ‘Can I as a coach trust you to be consistently good, to consistency run our scheme?’ We’re still looking for that at corner right now.”
Offensively, Cartersville will need some players to step up after the loss of the team’s starting quarterback and top three receivers from 2013. As 7-on-7 tournaments are primarily passing drills, the Southeastern tournament gave King a good chance to take a look at his weapons for the upcoming season as well as the quarterback situation.
“We rolled the two [quarterbacks, junior Miller Forristall and freshman Trevor Lawrence] the first day,” King said of his signal- caller during the event. “Basically, we told them we are going off of productivity the first day and Trevor was just a little bit more productive than Miller. We told them the rest of the competition it was whoever had the hot hand, so we rolled with Trevor after that.
“Trevor is way ahead of most freshman. He’s working hard this summer.”
King also saw a trio of receivers step up.
“The receivers are working really hard. [Junior] Terrius Callahan, [junior] Tony Dean and [senior] Malik Mitchell are the three main ones that we rolled in,” King said. “We rolled other guys in there, but those three guys are working hard and understand what we’re trying to do. Now it’s just about getting better and refining what we’re doing, but those three guys have had a good summer.”
The receivers are part of a group that has been working diligently on its speed and agility over the summer. King has implemented a rigorous strength program in the offseason, one that features a sandpit, affectionately deemed Hurricane Beach by the players.
Kalin Heath attributed the sandpit to helping him run a 4.44 40-yard dash at the Mississippi State prospect camp last month. Fellow running back Pennymon also expects the sandpit to pay dividends in his speed and agility.
“It’s working good. I’m getting a lot faster,” Pennymon said of Hurricane Beach. “I’m expecting to have a big season.”
“It’s part of our running program that we do, trying to build speed and increase those fast-twitch muscles. It helps stability, acceleration in the sand. Once you get in the grass, it’s a little bit easier,” King said of the sandpit. “On that unstable surface, it really develops those ligaments and those tendons. One of the things I found out when I got here is we have had some knee injuries and a few ankle injuries, so I thought, ‘What can we do?’ So we’ve revamped what we’ve done in the weight room and then I wanted to put that sandpit in. The kids will say they really like it and it’s helping. They’ve labeled it Hurricane Beach and they take a lot of pride in getting in that sandpit.”
In addition to speed training, King is hoping the offseason strength program will benefit the Canes when the season rolls around.
“Without a doubt, we need to gain weight and get stronger. We want to make sure we get faster, more agile,” King said. “We want to continue to build on that basis and get a lot stronger in the weight room. We’ll max out next Thursday and that will tell us. A couple of the coaches that come from other sports and have seen some of the kids have said it’s only been four or five weeks and they can already tell a big difference.”
The speed and strength work will yield succes on the field, but King also has implemented an off-field regiment for his players in his first season at the helm of the program.
On Saturday, Cartersville offensive linemen volunteered at the Cartersville Boys & Girls Club, playing dodgeball with Cartersville youth. On Monday, Cartersville players helped clean some of the city’s fire trucks.
“We try to get the kids to realize it’s not just about us,” King said. “It’s about the community as a whole, whether it be football, basketball or baseball, school, we have to unite as one and realize the best investment we can make as coaches, teachers and the community is in the young lives of these kids, and we have to make sure that we’re giving back.”