ALPHARETTA, Ga. — No matter the circumstances surrounding a season, Alpharetta’s goals do not change. The Raiders expect to field a winning team, compete for a region title and earn a playoff berth. For 2019, that charge will be led by a mixture of players who gathered extensive playing time last season and those who have limited Friday night experience.
The Raiders’ offense brings back its quarterback and three starting linemen but will look to new receivers and running backs. The defense is a bit more seasoned with two starting linebackers, two defensive linemen and four defensive backs returning.
“It’s huge to have those guys coming back with experience,” Alpharetta head coach Jacob Nichols said. “From a youth standpoint, we are not really young experience-wise.”
A returner will lead the offense in quarterback Will Gerdes. The senior shared snaps last season, racking up 1,275 yards passing with 13 touchdowns, but Nichols said Gerdes will take over the reins in 2019.
“Will showed us a lot toward the end of last season as far his maturity level and development,” Nichols said. “He’s had a great offseason, and his teammates have really responded to his leadership. Everyone we play is going to see a much more mature and refined quarterback.”
Joining Gerdes in the backfield will be several running backs. Nichols said junior Dylan Merrell is perhaps the speediest player on the team, while sophomore Tylan Johnson is physical and versatile. Other rushers will also likely contribute.
Elijah Fils, Jose Lozada and David Oxman return to start on the offensive line, but Nichols said the team is still trying to create depth in the trenches.
CJ Dobard will be the only true returning receiver, but Nichols said the team has a variety of size and skill at the position with defensive backs Jared Rumph, Jaden Slocum and Jayson Gilliom joining the offense’s receiving core.
He also expects those players to have a significant impact on defense.
“I feel like on the back end, we may have one of the best groups we’ve had,” Nichols said.
Inside linebackers Cam Dorsey and Jordan Leslie return after strong junior campaigns. Dorsey compiled 76 tackles and defended nine passes last season, while Leslie had 51 tackles and an interception.
Three-year starter and Senior Breon Smith, who made 21 tackles last season, will lead the defensive front.
Senior Bryce Troutt has recovered from an injury last season and will handle kicking duties.
Alpharetta’s schedule could prove beneficial in establishing new starters and molding the squad early in the season. The Raiders have a bye after each of their first two regular season games.
“It can cause some issues because we have to do a good job as coaches in keeping the guys focused, but I feel the extra time will help us in the long run,” Nichols said. “We look at it as an advantage with a lot of new faces out there on Friday night this year. Hopefully, that schedule setup will give us plenty of time to get up to speed.”
After facing rivals Milton in the Freedom Bowl and hosting Lanier, the Raiders will look to improve on their 5-3 mark in Region 7-AAAAAA play last season and avenge one-score losses to Northview and Centennial. Nichols said a crucial game that can easily be overlooked by outsiders will be against North Atlanta. While Alpharetta is 3-0 in the series, the Warriors have given the Raiders fits.
“Quietly they have been making strides, and they return a lot of key pieces,” Nichols said. “That’s definitely one I have highlights on our schedule, because it has never been an easy one for us.”
Whoever the Raiders line up against, Nichols said he thinks his 2019 squad’s grittiness can lead Alpharetta to success.
“There are still some things that we need to improve on across the board, but I think we are at our best when we are showing that ‘never quit’ attitude,” he said. “We hope to make that contagious and make sure we show up at every game and practice. If we keep the grit level up, we can have a lot of success.”