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Let the search begin for the go-to guy.
With eight returning starters on offense, Berkmar enters its fourth season under head coach Jonathan Sanks with some stability. Jaquan Morris (pictured) is back at quarterback in the Patriots’ spread attack. Last year as a junior Morris didn’t lead the Patriots to many wins. They were just 2-8, but the quarterback got a feel for the offense and saw many of the best defenders and team defenses in the state playing in Region 8-AAAAAA.
The three receivers Sanks identifies as threats and potential replacements for the loss of Dorren Miller’s 54 receptions, 1,029 yards and six touchdowns, are Rashad Hall, Kenyuan Riddle and Camden Terry. The trio all played some last year and all will get balls thrown their way, but the internal competition for the top guy is what interests Sanks.
“When you are in a fight, someone is going to identify themselves as the winner,” Sanks said. “One guy is going to prove he’s tougher than the other guy. We are going to use all of them, but we are trying to find the guy that is going to be the guy.
“We have a great deal coming back but we have yet to identify that big-play guy.”
But having returning varsity players means a lot to a Berkmar program fighting to keep pace with some of the state’s top competition. When Sanks arrived at Berkmar, he said his biggest challenge was developing football players. He spoke of his first seasons as Football 101.
“We are past the prerequisites, now we are in the core classes,” Sanks said, meaning it’s time for his team to compete to win games.
Like the offense, the Patriots return plenty on defense. Even if those players aren’t returning from winning seasons, returning with knowledge and another year of practice and weights and running behind them, again, is a positive for Berkmar.
“They put the work in the weight room,” Sanks said. “They’ve gotten a whole lot stronger and a whole lot faster. Their football IQ is off of the charts. They’ve been baptized in the fire.
“They are tough. Our defense is going to be tough. They are going to be tough, they are going to be physical and a lot of guys aren’t going to like them.”
Including in the returners are Kaleb Catching, Jamal Wise, Anthony Greene, Natori Burney, Hall, Camden Terry, Bryceson Powers and Kevin Grier. It’s a group that’s seen the best football has to offer. They’ve lost big and they’ve lost close. They’ve played against state champions and No. 1 recruits.
“All of those guys have been playing or starting ever since they were in the ninth grade,” Sanks said, noting the thinness of the Patriots’ program on his arrival. “I don’t have to tell them, they saw it. Nothing is better than your own personal experience. You better take something from that and learn. I feel like they learned and they’ll be a better football player for it.”
After scrimmaging Buford a week before the season starts, the Patriots open the season with games against programs of similar fate and recent results, facing Duluth, Meadowcreek and Shiloh in its first three games. Sanks knows they aren’t guarantees, but admits he sees them as possible confidence builders for a team searching for some positive results.
“They know how to prepare, but we have to start off good because we haven’t had a whole lot of success.” Sanks said. “We have to start off good to kind of help the psyche of the kids. If we start off fast, from a psychological standpoint it will give them the momentum and the confidence that, ‘Maybe we are supposed to be in these games, we can win these games.’ It’s important. It’s important.”