Calhoun High School seniors leave a huge legacy
Calhoun High School head football coach Clay Stephenson wants everyone to understand the legacy the current group of seniors is leaving on the program will be felt for years to come.
In all, 22 young men (ironic that that is the exact number of offensive and defensive starters needed for a football game) have finished their highly-successful high school careers in the gold-and-white and while some are headed to the college gridiron to continue their careers, most have played their last football game in shoulder pads and a helmet.
But their overall impact — from those that starred on both sides of the ball to those who played a single role — and not just on the field, but in the locker room and the class room. is one the coach believes carries a lot of weight going forward as they take some time off over the holidays before the offseason revs up in the New Year and they begin prepping for the 2022 season.
“There’s no way our younger players didn’t learn what
leadership is and what it looks like from this group of seniors,” Stephenson said. “From Day One back in the spring, these seniors have led. All 22 of them have been leaders. Some have been quiet and some have been vocal, but they have led us from Day One when the (offseason workouts) started.
“They led us through the season. They led us through the playoffs. They led the coaching staff and they led the younger players. Through everything we faced this year and everything we were up against and everything we dealt with, they guided us through it. And their daily routines and hard work and game time preparation is something I know the rest of the team saw and learned from.
“I mean this is an incredibly special group and not just because they’re a very talented group, but it’s because they are also young men with leadership qualities and they showed that this year.”
He also said he can’t say enough about his assistant coaches because behind the scenes, they do so much of the heavy lifting involved in the program being successful.
“I have a great group of coaches,” Stephenson said. “I’m blessed to have them. These guys spend so much time away from their families and work so hard and they just did an incredible job this year. Every week, they had the guys ready to play. They had a great game plan for us going into every week and I just can’t say enough about the coaching staff and what a great job they did.”
Terry Morrow, Tommie Hoblitzell, Chase Arnold, Franco Perkins, Barry Hall, Justin Bishop, Thomas Lester, CJ Collins, Greg Green, Gordon Powers, Tino Hernandez, and Caleb Brooks are the Calhoun assistant coaches.
“Just like the players, those guys love the game and love what they’re doing and they make it enjoyable to come to work every day,” Stephenson said. “I know we’ve all had a lot of fun this season. There’s been a lot of hard work put in, but to see the result you want on Friday night and too see the joy that comes from the players and the fans because of the success we had this year, that has made it all more than worth it.”
While the scoreboard said what it said Saturday afternoon in the 5A state finals at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets did what they needed to do to give themselves a chance despite the early errors.
In big games between powerhouses, which is what you had with Calhoun against Warner Robins, sometimes one team simply isn’t able to block the other one, but the Calhoun offensive line held up very well against Warner Robins’ massive defensive front.
Senior Kendrick Kirby, sophomore Christian Bell, senior Tye Massey, senior Jace Warren, and senior Blake Balliew gave quarterback Christian Lewis time to throw and running backs Gage Leonard and Caden Williams lanes to run through most of the rainy evening.
And on the other side, the Calhoun front six, while much smaller, fought hard and definitely held up against a big WR offensive line that tried to mash them with a straight-ahead running game all day. They forced a couple of turnovers and didn’t allow a touchdown on the ground until the fourth quarter to a team that rushed for over 3,000 yards this season.
And it was obvious the Jackets were dealing with a different animal on the third play of the game Saturday, when the Demons threw a short pass to a 290-pound tight end and then tried to have him just sledgehammer his way forward against every black jersey he encountered.
“I thought we did some things very well,” Stephenson said. “You look at the stats and they were pretty even. I thought our guys up front on both sides did a good job. We just gave them too much early and then that pass play right before halftime and those things in the end, wound up really hurting us.”
The Yellow Jackets closed the year at 12-3 and Stephenson said a .800 winning percentage is nice.
“I’m so proud of the guys for that,” he said. “And those three losses were too three very good football teams. But when you get as close as we did this year, it stings because we wanted this so much for our seniors. But we just came up a little short of our ultimate goal. But very pleased with that many wins. In Georgia, it’s very difficult to win that many games in a season because you only are guaranteed to play 10 games, so you win that many times, you know you’ve had a good year.”
The team also made its awesome run at the 5A classification after moving up from 3A just two years ago.
Stephenson said the biggest challenge in the playoffs, besides facing the larger schools, was playing teams they were totally unfamiliar with.
“One of the toughest things was just about every team we faced, we didn’t know anything about them because we had never played them,” he said. “When we were 3A or even 2A and we made a deep run in the playoffs, a lot of times we would see the same teams over and over, but being a 5A school, our opponents were new too us and as soon as we knew who we were playing, we as coaches would go right to work to find out all we could about them.
“And while we obviously did that when we were a 3A and a 2A school, sometimes we didn’t have to nearly as much research because we had played that team the year before or two years before so we kind of had some ideas about them but these teams we played this year and last, just about all of them, were new to us.”
Defensive back Luke Hawkins, wide receiver/ long snapper Brendan Gray, wide receiver Peyton Law, linebacker/punter Christopher Lewis, wide receiver/ defensive back Cole Speer, running back/defensive back Gage Leonard, defensive end Ben Nation, wide receiver Gavin Valvarde, wide receiver/defensive back Quin Smith, defensive end Lex Walraven, safety Blaze Hammett, quarterback Christian Lewis, wide receiver Camran Dodd, kicker Carlos Orozco, linebacker Mason Green, Nose tackle Omarie Shoulders, nose tackle Jai Hogan, Massey, Kirby, Warren, Belliew, offensive lineman Jackson Hamby, and offensive linemen Derek Green were the seniors on the Calhoun football team who will graduate this spring.