Richie Busby, the former offensive coordinator just promoted to head coach, is preparing his team to enter the post-ArDarius Stewart era. But the Wildcats have 14 seniors and 18 juniors, and 50 players overall — big numbers, historically, for the Class 2A program.
“We’re going to have to do it [replace Stewart] by committee,” Busby said. “It’s obviously the biggest loss we could have, but we lost an all-state mike linebacker and two running backs that combined for over 2,000 yards in two years.”
Stewart’s younger brother, Jared, will play in the defensive secondary and as a slotback. He will be one of several targets for senior quarterback Kris Lewis, as will new wide receiver Antoine Wheeler. “We feel like he has the speed to change the game on the outside,” Busby said.
Zac Willis is back for his second year running the Yellow Jackets and has some holes to fill as well with graduation losses of quarterback/defensive back Blake Byrd, receiver Kerry Smith and all-state kicker Troy Elliott.
“This is the most improved team we’ve had, especially in the weight room,” Willis said. “This is the hardest-working group I’ve had here in 13 years. But we’re not going to be as deep as last year.”
Three players are currently vying for the starting quarterback position, including senior Dylan Adamson, Byrd’s backup and also a starting free safety last season. Adamson can also go wide as a receiver.
Willis will stay in the spread offense, but will run more than last year. He’ll stick with a 3-4 defense with plenty of attacking, especially with a lack of size on the D-line. “The ones that are coming back are stronger than the year before, though,” Willis said.
Coach Matt Glover lost two big names in Zach Cunningham and Earnest Robinson, but has some replacements lined up already, including Cunningham’s little brother at wide receiver.
“It’s two totally different teams,” Glover said in comparing this year’s squad to 2012. “We had a lot more experience last year. We’re heavy on 10th and 11th grade this year.”
Starting quarterback Brooks Garrett returns. “We’ll do a lot more play-action passing. utilizing his strengths,” Glover said. “We’ve got two good running backs, and a really good O-line.”