MILTON, Ga. – Less than three weeks after Cambridge High School welcomes its new students to class for the first time, the football team will play a varsity game against an established opponent.
The Bears will play a full region schedule in 7-AAAAA, including five games within the sub-region plus three games against teams from the opposite sub-region.
Only one of the team’s nine scheduled opponents made the playoffs last season, placing the Bears in a slightly less daunting situation than Northview faced a decade ago when the Titans played a full region schedule in their first season and went 0-10.
The sub-region in which the Bears will play is among the weakest in the state, but that doesn’t change the fact that Cambridge will be playing a varsity schedule with a roster that has approximately 50 freshmen, 20-25 sophomores, 12-15 juniors and a handful of seniors.
“It will be difficult,” Cambridge coach Craig Bennett said. “But it’s a challenge we accepted.”
Unlike Johns Creek, which opened several years ago and was able to play games its first season against similar start-up teams, Cambridge has no potential opponents in the same situation. The school also opened in the first year of the GHSA’s two-year scheduling cycle.
Bennett, who was on the coaching staff at Milton the past five seasons and at Pope the previous eight years, said playing a varsity schedule right off the bat was something Cambridge probably needed to do.
“Some of the kids came to Cambridge because we’re playing a varsity schedule,” he said. “If we were playing JV the first year, a lot of the kids may not have come out. It will definitely be a challenge, but we’re not backing away.”
The Bears have a few players with varsity experience, and Bennett believes that will be a real asset. Among the seniors are quarterbacks Graham Harris, who came over from Milton, and Kevin Little, a back-up last year at Alpharetta.
“They know the routine and we’ll lean on them a lot,” Bennett said. “They’ve taken on a leadership role.”
Junior defensive back A.J. Campbell was on the Milton roster last season, and will be joined by senior linebacker Ryan Callahan, a transfer from Luella who Bennett says “brings a toughness to our defense.”
That’s about it for experience for the Bears, with Bennett and his assistant coaches “still in the evaluation process” several weeks before the team’s opener Aug. 31 against Riverwood.
The Bears’ first three games will be at home, with a week off between the Riverwood opener and a Sept. 14 contest against South Forsyth.
“We just want to compete with those guys,” Bennett said. “We’ll have our hands full because they’re established.”
Most of the team’s experienced players are either skill position players on offense or defensive backs, with the wide receiver and secondary positions “a strong point,” according to Bennett.
The Bears will be young up in both lines, but Bennett says the offensive line will average “around 230-235, in that range.”
Bennett was named head coach after the school’s original choice left under somewhat murky circumstances several months after he was selected as the team’s first head coach.
The Cambridge coach says he has “realistic expectations” about what his team can accomplish in its first season.
“We don’t want to set expectations too high as far as wins and losses,” he said. “I want the kids to play as hard as they can play. That’s all we can ask of them. If they do, we’ll be OK.”