Without recruiting or the ability to sign free agents, high school teams are left with whatever the talent pool in their particular area is.
This year, Creekview coach Al Morrell believes that the Grizzlies are on the upswing.
“I think it is,” he said. “Some private schools have the luxury of recruiting, but public high schools don’t. This is one of those years. We have a good number of kids with experience back on the field. We only lost 12 seniors last year. Even though we lost some key players, we were forced to play a lot of kids.”
Even though the team lost standout wide receiver Riley Davis, running back D’Ondrei Hubbard and linebacker Keith Woods to graduation, Creekview has the majority of its team returning for this season.
“We lost some very good kids,” Morrell said. “But we do have a lot of seniors with a lot of experience for the first time in two or three years. It’s probably the most kids back since our 9-2 year. I’m about having some returning players back.”
Perhaps aiding the Grizzlies this season is its new region schedule. Although Creekview is moving up to Class AAAAA, the Grizzlies will only face two teams, Kell (9-3) and River Ridge (8-2), that had winning records last season. Still, Creekview will have its first chance to face Cherokee in school history, and will renew its rivalry with Sequoyah in its first region game of the season.
In order to best those key county foes and reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, the Grizzlies will have to return to doing what they did best during that year — playing physical football.
“The most encouraging thing (about spring) was the fact that the kids are playing very physical football,” Morrell said. “In our scrimmages, we’ve got some kids that don’t mind hitting. They’re not shy at all. I think we will be a physical football team. At Creekview’s we’re not really known for our speed, so the weight room is important. Our strength coach has done a great job with these kids.”
Much of the reason for that physical play has more to do with the personnel on both the offensive and defensive lines than it does with Creekview’s style of play. Last year, Hayden Hall had 15 touchdowns, 10 of which were in the air. The Grizzlies will likely want to put the ball in the capable hands of their rising senior quarterback, but he may have more time to throw with a more experienced line in front of him.
Michael Shaw returns at guard, while both Johnathan Dotson and Katavious Payne return at each of their respective tackle positions. Center Jonathan Sullivan won the center job after playing junior varsity ball last year.
Hall won’t have Davis to throw to this year, but he will have rising senior Brandon Wright. According to Morrell, Wright doesn’t have the same downfield speed to get the big play that Davis had, but he is tall receiver with good hands. Wright returns after playing just one game last season after suffering a broken collarbone.
In addition to Wright, Creekview suffered a multitude of injuries last year that saw him, starting running back Will Kirby and several other key players lose significant playing time.
“Our concern going into next season going into next season is staying healthy,” Morrell said. “Will Kirby got hurt, had a couple of guys that were able to play very little. We have to stay injury-free. That’s a key for us next year.”