Central Gwinnett’s Adam Riley
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If Todd Wofford’s Central Gwinnett offense needs one thing it’s a quarterback.
The exhaustive spread offense employed by the fourth-year head coach of the Black Knighs requires its QB to call plays, set up the offense, make the right reads and throw the ball, or hand it off, as quickly as possible. And moments later do it again.
In Wofford’s first three seasons that man was Eman Westmoreland. The Black Knights’ triggerman didn’t always have time or weapons, but he helped turn Central from a two-win team his freshman season to a six-win team his senior season.
But he graduated, leaving a void at the most crucial point of the Black Knights’ attack.
To fill, Wofford first turned to a pair of QBs vying for the starting spot in junior transfer from Union Grove Eric Forrest and sophomore Michael Maxey.
Despite Maxey’s growth the young quarterback slipped out of the competition early in camp, opening the door for Forrest, who is still battling for the spot with the athletic Nate Hartford.
“(Forrest) had a really good spring,” Wofford said. “He’s still learning the offense and at times he does really, really good. But he knows it’s a process of learning and getting more comfortable. The more comfortable he gets the better he gets.”
Though late to the competition, Wofford insists it’s a close call between the two. And unlike in his first few seasons, evaluating the quarterbacks is easier because of the experience surrounding them.
“The cool thing for (any quarterback now) is that everybody around them, skill position guys, are veterans. It makes it easier.”
And for the first time in Wofford’s career at Central there are a group of skill players to rely on.
Seniors Zedekiah Brown, Adam Riley (pictured) and Nate Hartford head the class along with junior Chris Shelling.
“All of these guys have had moments where they look like they can do a lot big things for us this fall,” Wofford said.
Then there’s sophomore Major Ballamy, a standout on the freshman team a year ago.
“He is electric with the ball in his hands,” Wofford said.
Just as Westmoreland left a gap of experience and leadership on the offense so did Trey Johnson to the Black Knights’ defense.
The current Ohio State football player took 14 tackles a game with him when he graduated, a level of production Central cannot reproduce. At least in one player.
“The good thing we have coming back is yeah you take Trey Johnson off the field, but a lot of those guys were still playing out there with him. We have a lot of those guys back,” Wofford said. “I think where we might not have one guy with 15 tackles we might have six guys with six tackles. Team speed is much better, on both sides of the ball, than it’s been since I’ve been here.”
Stedman Waiters, who averaged 4.5 tackles a game last year at defensive end, returns to his natural linebacker position and transfer Adonis Thomas is one of the fastest players on the team, standing at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds.
“(Thomas) is a very gifted physical player that has great size, speed combination that we didn’t have at that position last year including Trey,” Wofford said. “We are much more athletic at the linebacker position now.”
At every other position, Central returns experience.
Greg McPherson returns from last year and Omar Lopez brings size and speed to the front.
“It could be the strength of our defense,” Wofford said of his defensive line. “They are strong and they are fast.”
Charles King, who averaged 4.7 tackles a game as a safety last year, has played since his freshmen season and leads the defensive backfield.
“He’s Mr. Consistent back there, he is the brains of the whole defense,” Wofford said. “He has the most experience of anyone on the team at their position.”
A real change
When any coach takes over a team mired in losing the first promise is the vague idea of changing the culture. But the steady growth of the Central Gwinnett program shows how that happens.
This is the largest varsity team under Wofford and the biggest senior class. The Black Knights had their first winning season under Wofford last year and have added wins in each year of his leadership. All of this in a region featuring two of the past three state champions in the state’s largest classification.
But not until a game last year, did Wofford watch the transformation blossom. Central pulled out a triple-overtime win over a playoff-bound Parkview team which had delivered the year’s biggest upset when it beat Grayson earlier in the season. Central won its final three games.
“They were beat before games started before (I got here),” Wofford said. “Now there is nobody that intimidates these guys.”