At a Class 3A school such as Adairsville, there's always going to be one or two athletes that coaches like Eric Bishop have to practically drag off the field kicking and screaming. These players want …
At a Class 3A school such as Adairsville, there's always going to be one or two athletes that coaches like Eric Bishop have to practically drag off the field kicking and screaming.
These players want to be out there for every snap, and frankly, sometimes a team can't afford to have them off the field for more than a play or two at a time.
Those players have included Mason Boswell, Savaun Henderson and Malachi Gardner — all of whom signed to play at the next level — for some recent Tigers teams. This year's group is headlined by rising senior Courtney Slocum.
"Those guys had that role of playing every snap and doing all the hard work, playing on every special teams snap," Slocum said of the aforementioned trio. "This year, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to show my versatility and help us get some wins."
He later added, "I expect to play every snap, whether that be special teams — kickoff, kickoff return — every offensive and defensive snap. That's what I expect for myself."
That high standard is one of the things that endears Slocum to his teammates. His strong academic profile and leadership qualities make him the kind of high school kid adored by teachers and coaches alike.
The whole package is what has earned Slocum offers from Division-I programs Bucknell and Marist.
"He talks the talk and he walks the walk when it comes to academics, when it comes to the weight room, when it comes to conditioning, when it comes to film study," Bishop said of Slocum. "In all of those things, he expects excellence out of himself. Therefore, I think, the kids have a great deal of respect for him when he says something or does something."
While Slocum's impact on offense and special teams could be significant, his greatest influence will almost certainly come on defense, where he is set to be the only returning starter in the secondary.
Positionally, Slocum said the expectation is for him to hopefully play in the box most of the time before dropping deeper on passing downs. That role will likely be contingent on how quickly his teammates get up to speed.
"He'll have a big part in that, especially here early on in the scrimmages and stuff like that," Bishop said of Slocum's impact on the defensive backs. "Hopefully, he can bring those younger and inexperienced players along. That will answer some of our questions in the secondary."
From Slocum's perspective, some of those questions are currently being answered. For example, he praised the play of rising sophomore Chris Roper and expects him to be a key contributor this season.
Overall, Slocum believes the extra two weeks Adairsville will have to prepare for the year — following the GHSA's decision to postpone the start of the season — will be a huge factor for the defensive backs' development.
"There's a lot of young guys and inexperienced guys, they've picked up a lot things I didn't end up picking up until my junior year," Slocum said.
For all the physical tools Slocum has, his mental approach to the game might be even more impressive. The combination of those two things makes him a true asset for the Tigers, with Bishop claiming that Slocum would be a "great coach at any level."
"It starts with his football knowledge," Bishop said of Slocum taking on his expanded role. "He really loves studying the game. ... He loves talking football; he loves watching film; he loves the Xs and Os, the scheme part of it.
"That puts him in position to be the quarterback of the defense, if you will, especially being on the back end and taking Savaun Henderson's role as that person on our defense who takes the call and gets us lined up."
Slocum said he views his job on defense as trying to keep everybody on the right page and doing the right things. It's a role he'll only be able to hold for one season with the Tigers, and that pains him.
"There's something special about Adairsville," Slocum said. "Knowing this is my last year being an Adairsville Tiger, that hurts me."
On the bright side, Slocum has a chance to help leave a mark his final year with the program. He would prefer that comes from picking up plenty of wins this season.
But even if there are some ups and downs, like those who came before him, Slocum's impact on the underclassmen could leave a legacy just as powerful behind.
As Bishop said, "The fact that he's mentoring these young kids and setting that example will hopefully continue year after year."