ROSWELL, Ga. — The 2019 season will mark the 70th year Roswell has taken the field, and head coach Matt Kemper said his team understands the importance of continuing the legacy of the historically most successful North Fulton program.
“It means more here,” Kemper said. “The guys understand and respect that we are not just representing ourselves, we are representing generations of teams and players.”
And the outlook for team No. 70? Cautiously optimistic, Kemper said.
The Hornets will have several returning starters on both sides of the ball, and Kemper has been pleased with his new talent stepping up to replace last year’s senior class.
The Hornets’ offense, which averaged 33 points per game last year, has a strong core of returners back with an added year of experience.
Quarterback Ethan Roberts will lead the Hornets again this season after compiling 2,274 yards passing with 24 total touchdowns in 2018.
Roberts will have his top two targets from last year returning in senior tight end John Copenhaver and senior receiver Jacob Jarrett. Copenhaver had 44 catches for 759 yards last season, while Jarrett compiled 596 yards, averaging 20 yards per catch. Both targets had eight touchdowns.
Kemper said juniors Marquis Willis and Michael Fitzgerald and sophomore Ryan Hill have also stepped up in the offseason at receiver.
The Hornets’ backfield will be without 1,000-yard rusher Kamonty Jett who graduated last year, but Kemper said Ryan Stephens and Savion McCrary should share carries to lead the rushing attack.
Opening holes in the Hornets’ run game will be a front five that returns three starters from last season. North Carolina commit and standout tackle Trey Zimmerman returns for his senior season along with guard Matthew Copeland and Matthew Ford, who has transitioned from guard to center.
“Those guys will really carry us,” Kemper said.
A focus for the offense this season is to spread their game.
“We have to be more balanced,” Kemper said. “We are going to take what the defense gives us, but we want a little better mixture of run/pass and want to get the ball into more people’s hands.”
Kemper said he has confidence in his defense, but staying healthy will be vital.
The Hornets will be formidable at linebacker with returning starters Doneiko Slaughter and Will Troutman manning the edges with Khaleed Mobley in the interior. Slaughter and Troutman had over 60 tackles last season, with Slaughter leading the team in sacks (8). Mobley compiled over 80 tackles with an interception and fumble recovery.
The defensive front returns three key pieces from last season, and the secondary will feature Dillon Hollifield at free safety.
“That kid has a bright future,” Kemper said. “He is long, he can run and he looks almost like a linebacker.”
The head coach is also looking to the multi-talented Sam DiRoberto to make an impact in the secondary.
“He can play four to five positions for us, and he did at times [last season],” Kemper said. “He has played both safeties, at linebacker and one game at corner. We hope he can have a breakout season.”
The Hornets’ veterans and newcomers likely have a chip on their shoulders entering this year. After compiling a 9-1 regular season and the Region 4-AAAAAAA title, they fell to a daunting Tift County team, the Class 7A at-large bid, in the first round of the playoffs.
“It will definitely be motivation for us,” Kemper said. “We definitely want to go deeper, and we feel like our business wasn’t finished.”
To get there, the Hornets will face another challenging non-region schedule that includes matchups with West Forsyth, Wheeler and rivals Milton, before looking to defend their 4-AAAAAAA title.
“If we want to get to the playoffs, we’ve got to take care of business first to get there and be at the top of the region,” Kemper said. “Walton is always tough, Cherokee and Woodstock are improved and Etowah always fields a strong team. It’s very competitive, and anybody can come out on top.”
After a strong 2018 season and confidence for this season, the Hornets are looking to remain a team to beat in Class 7A.
“Roswell is accustomed to winning,” Kemper said. “In 2017 we didn’t do things we should have done, but now we are doing things our way, and the kids have bought in. Most of our questions have been answered, now it’s more about managing things properly, staying sharp and staying healthy.”