However, this year’s two weeks of spring practice is even more important for Cartersville with first-year head coach Joey king taking over the program as he tries to implement a new offense and defense.
“It’s been going well. We’ve been getting to know the kids and what they’re all about, and the coaches, the ins-and-outs of the day job,” King said. “It’s been fun. The kids come ready to get after it every day and they’re excited.”
Practice began May 5 and will continue until Saturday, May 17, culminating in a controlled intrasquad scrimmage.
The biggest challenge for King so far has been implementing the offense and defensive schemes, specifically the new terminology.
“The kids said it’s like learning a new language and we have to do a good job coaching them. It’s a new language for the coaches, too,” King said. “Once that learning curve is flat, we’ll be fine. It’s definitely a process right now. The kids want to please, and that’s good. They’re really energetic at practice. They’re flying around, they’re picking each other up and they’re going hard. Sometimes they’re going the wrong way, but at least they’re going hard the wrong way. I can fix the learning curve problem. It’s hard to fix energy.”
Cartersville returns much of its coaching staff, but also will be without some coaches from last season.
Five-year Cartersville coach and defensive coordinator Rusty Grimmett will be replaced by former Carrollton coach Conor Foster, who was a two-year assistant for the Trojans. Foster was a baseball and football standout for Cartersville. A 2001 graduate, Foster was a member of the 1999 state football championship team and the 2001 state baseball championship team.
“[Foster] played here, his dad coached here, so he’s purple and gold through and through and he’s a heck of a football coach,” King said. “He’s a great man but he’s a heck of a football coach, too, so we’re excited to have him.”
Former Cartersville linebacker coach J.J. Chatmon is no longer on the staff after taking an assistant coaching position at Buford. Chatmon is a former all-state linebacker for Cartersville in 2000 and King’s former teammate at Carson-Newman.
“We have to replace J.J. Chatmon, which is hard to do,” King said. “I love J.J. to death. I wish him the best. He thinks it’s going to be a move that helps his career and I support him.”
Offensive line coach James Jones will remain at the school but will not coach the team. Matt Montgomery, who also was the offensive line coach last year, will continue his duties in that role.
Steve Corrigan was the defensive line coach a year ago, as was Mike Candela. Candela has moved on but Corrigan has stayed on staff.
The rest of the staff is in tact from last year, including Michael Bail as quarterbacks coach, Emerson Bridges as running backs coach and Tim Graves as wide receivers coach. On defense, returning coaches include Cedric Ward as the outside linebackers coach and Kyle Tucker as the defensive backs coach.
“I’m looking to hire maybe one or two more right now. I’m looking for a defensive backers coach,” King said. “There’s some great men here and that’s definitely a blessing. These guys work hard. They’re in here for those early practices and they show up fired up and ready to go. It’s been good to see the guys who have carried over from the previous staff until now.”
Spring practice is King’s first opportunity to work with his new players and evaluating his new weapons is one of his staff’s primary focuses during the two-week period.
“Spring ball right now for us is twofold. We want to get in our new system, offensively and defensively, and you want to find out what kids can play,” King said. “We’re letting the kids compete and they’re getting after each other pretty good. You see who fits where and you might see a kid who played strong safety in last year’s system, but he may be more of an outside linebacker in what we’re doing. We’re just trying to find where kids fit in the system.”
King has liked the talent he has seen so far and can already see the roster shaping up.
“I’ve been really impressed with our offensive line. I kind of was told that we have skill kids and our line might be a concern, but I think we’re going to be fine on the offensive line. We’re going to move kids around a little bit, but if they keep progressing the way they have so far this spring, I think we’re going to be fine.
Of course, King has been reassured of the talent at the skill positions he heard about when he took the job.
“We have skill kids. They’ve done a great job. Once we get this learning curve taken care of, they’ll be able to play a little bit faster,” King said. “Offensively, I think we’ll be fine. Defensively, we’re going to have some team speed. We’re trying to figure out the defensive line and who’s going to play where. Once we get that figured out, I think we’re going to do fine.”
Cartersville also has begun to work in some players in the promising eighth grade class. King said some of the incoming freshmen have practiced with pads and some have not, but all of them are beginning to learn the new terminology.
“[The eighth graders] have been over here learning the fundamentals and some of them actually have gotten in the mix, so that’s good too see,” King said. “I’ve been encouraged by them. We’ve got good numbers, some kids that I think will be linemen in that class eventually. That is big, so we’re excited about that group.”
Challenges facing a new coach
As with any coach taking over a program, especially a first-year head coach, there have been certain hurdles King has had to overcome.
The biggest challenge so far has been teaching the new offensive and defensive systems.
“The continuity among terminology right now, that’s the biggest thing,” King said of his challenges in spring practice. “In Carrollton, we had a system in place from an early age. We called it the same way through. Here, it’s been a little bit different, but we’re working on that and obviously we’re bringing a new terminology to these kids and new vocabulary. They’re having to learn the way we speak, but once we learn to speak each other’s language, it’s going to be pretty exciting to watch.”
One aspect King says he has not struggled with is the transition from an assistant coach to head coach.
“To be honest, I’ve planned and prepared myself to be a head coach. I’m used to making suggestions and now I’m having to make the decisions, so that’s probably the biggest difference. Balancing everything, handling the recruiting, those guys who are coming in to see the kids, planning and coordinating all that stuff, I’ve worked in that capacity. I’ve always made the suggestions and now I’m making the decisions. That’s probably the biggest difference.”