ROSWELL, Ga. — Replacing graduated seniors is a difficult task every team must undertake each season. But replacing a senior class that earned two state titles in three appearances in the finals, won three region championships and compiled a staggering 55-5-1 record is beyond a challenge — it is a monumental chore.
And it is the task that Blessed Trinity faces after its standout 2018 senior class, full of players now suiting up for D1 schools, graduated last year.
“We are starting over in a lot of regards,” BT head coach Tim McFarlin said. “We have a lot of gaps to fill. It’s no secret we had an exceptional senior class last year, but we have a lot of kids competing for a lot of jobs. It has created an exciting atmosphere.”
BT’s leadership will also be new this year with six changes to the program’s coaching staff. The New coaches include Leo Barker, a former Roswell head coach and former Kell defensive coordinator and East Paulding head coach Chuck Goddard.
“There is a lot of chemistry that has to develop there as well,” McFarlin said. “It’s has been a very interesting year so far, but I’ve actually found it to be stimulating.”
BT’s dominant defense powered the Titans’ undefeated 2018 season, and while many new faces will play under the new defensive coaching staff, some talented starters are back.
McFarlin expects junior Ryan Dupont to lead the linebacker core, a talent-rich position for the Titans in recent years.
“He is a very good football player, and he had the benefit of playing with (Notre Dame’s) JD Bertrand,” he said.
Jackson Hamilton, who played in the secondary last season, and Ryan Attaway will join Dupont at linebacker.
“I think we are going to be solid at that level,” McFarlin said.
Seniors Regan Smith and Grayson Gilder will return to the defensive front. Gilder had 30 total tackles, five for a loss, last season while Smith had 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
McFarlin said the secondary will be solid with returners Quinton Reese and Carson Harof at corner. James Bryant has been moved to free safety and will provide a sizeable presence at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.
Similar to the defensive side of the ball, BT’s offense does have returners this season, but the Titans will have limited experience at several positions.
With the graduation of standout quarterback/safety Jake Smith, BT will have a new face under center this year. The position is still open with three candidates vying for the starting role. BT’s options include sophomore Banks Atkins, junior Duncan Reavis and freshman John Collier.
“I am very pleased with all of them,” McFarlin said. “Reavis missed a good portion of last year with an injury, he is looking good, but he also looks really good on defense at safety so we might focus on having him there. Atkins is maturing and he has grown a lot, and Collier will be a really good football player, but he is a freshman, so with that there is certainly going to be some frustration and mistakes.”
McFarlin said the team will likely still be finding its starter a few games into the regular season. He also expects BT’s passing game to be less one-dimensional than last year.
“We primarily had a single-receiver focus with Ryan Davis, but now I feel we have three strong guys and our passing game will be a lot more balanced,” McFarlin said.
That talent includes three players from the defensive secondary with Bryant lining up at tight end and Reese and Harof out wide.
Senior Elijah Green returns to the backfield this year after missing a large chunk of the 2018 season with a fractured foot. In his limited playing time, he averaged 6 yards per carry.
Leading the rushing charge is an offensive line bringing back starting center Jackson Filipowicz and left guard Austin Burns. McFarlin is also pleased with junior tackle Ty Furnish.
Though the team will sport a relatively new look, the expectations have not changed in the 2019 season.
“We want to be around in November and December, and a lot of that depends on how we evolve early on,” McFarlin said.
And the Titans will undoubtedly be tested early. Their challenging four-game slate of non-region opponents are the same as last year, and that group includes four playoff teams who combined for a 33-15 overall record.
“We don’t have a lot of time to breath,” McFarlin said. “I suspect we will have some periods early on in the year where we struggle, but from that you can grow and be better off for it.”
The Titans will then face what McFarlin called perhaps the most difficult region schedule in Class 4A. BT will go toe-to-toe with the always-talented Marist, a Denmark team returning all its starters and what should be a strong Flowery Branch squad.
“I think we are going to have 10 weeks of really tough football,” McFarlin said. “We’re going to need a break, we need to stay healthy, and in that process we have to grow kids.”
BT will have their challenges this season, but McFarlin said his players know they need to keep their focus forward.
“They know there is a standard here, and (state championships) have helped to elevate our football program, no doubt, but we need to keep that in perspective and the kids know that,” he said. “We have a new year, and we just going to control what we can control, and that is effort and execution. This group is very close, and that will sustain us through some tough games.”