Grangers set to face familiar foe
LAGRANGE – More than 100 years ago, LaGrange and Newnan locked horns on the football field for the first time.
Those two programs are set to resume that classic rivalry this week.
On Friday, Callaway Stadium will be the location for the latest meeting between LaGrange and Troup, although it will only be a preseason game.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and the game will serve as a tune-up for the Grangers as they prepare for their season opener against Callaway on Aug. 21.
LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said the starters will play the first half and perhaps a little bit in the third quarter before the reserve players get a chance to show what they can do.
Burks, who is in his second season as the Grangers’ head coach, said the game will give he and the other coaches a great opportunity to evaluate the players away from the practice field.
“We want to see who’s going to separate from each other,” Burks said. “Who’s going to show up when the lights go on? Just see who will have fun, just see who will get out there and just say, OK, here’s what I’ve been coached to do, and let me go and do it.”
Burks added that the Newnan game gives the team a chance to “just see where we are with our base schemes, how well we execute. We’re not going to get fancy at all. If we can execute our base stuff, we’ll be OK.”
Burks will be keeping a close eye on the performance of all the players, including the quarterbacks.
Amad Ogletree took most of the snaps at quarterback last season and he’ll be the starter on Friday, but Burks said the decision as to who the starter will be against Callaway hasn’t been made.
“The biggest battle we have is at the quarterback position,” Burks said.
Burks said LaPerion Perry and Andrew Askew will also get a chance to show what they can do during the Newnan game.
“We sit in this office every day after practice saying we can go this way, we can go that way,” Burks said. “Each way, you have a different guy. We’re just going to see who is going to give us the best fit, where we can maximize all our guys.”
Burks added that “all those guys will get their fair shot to go and win the job.”
Perry will be on the field whether he is playing quarterback or not.
A year ago, Perry was one of the Grangers’ top play-makers, mostly as a wide receiver, but he also played quarterback occasionally and was a dynamic kick returner.
Burks said Perry has a similar skill set to TaQuon Marshall, Harris County’s sensational quarterback from a year ago who is now at Georgia Tech.
“LaPerion, he kind of reminds you of the guy from Harris County last year,” Burks said. “He can get it and go.”
Whoever ends up playing quarterback will be surrounded by some players who can do big things when they get the ball.
The Grangers have a handful of talented running backs including Kimani Barnes and Jeremiah Wright, as well as some gifted wide receivers led by senior Mike Hardy, who Burks said has received a scholarship offer from Illinois.
Burks said new offensive coordinator Jay Floyd “is doing a real good job of placing those guys in different spots, and trying to really get them the ball.”
LaGrange will be short-handed on the offensive line.
Senior Luke Elder, who has verbally committed to North Carolina, will be on the sidelines when the season begins after undergoing knee surgery this spring.
Elder injured himself during the Grangers’ spring game in May.
While hopeful Elder will be able to play this season, Burks said there is no set date for when he may return.
“We don’t want to set a timeline and get his hopes up, and get our hopes up,” Burks said. “It’s whenever the doctor says he’s good to go.”
On defense, a number of first-year starters will get some game experience on Friday.
Among those players is defensive back Dexter Gates, a senior defensive back who Burks said could make a big impact this season.
“Gates is going to be a major contributor,” Burks said. “He’s a kid that everyone on this squad knows that he can go off.”
There are some veterans on defense, including safeties Jeremiah Wright and Will Pauley, who are both seniors with plenty of experience playing on a Friday night.
Senior defensive lineman Emmanuel Mann also brings plenty of experience to the field, as does linebacker Bobby Willoughby.
Burks said there are a bunch of positions on both sides of the ball where a starter hasn’t been named.
Burks said the on-field performance will obviously have a lot to do with who ends up starting or playing a lot, but he said other factors will be weighed as well.
“We monitor everything, the class room, the way you walk around the community. We factor in all that,” Burks said. “If we have two guys that are right there neck in neck, sometimes I may say the first one who is in the team room for the meeting will be the one to get the job. We have a couple of situations like that that we feel are going to come down to that.”
After the preseason game is done, LaGrange will turn its full attention to the season opener against Callaway.
The Grangers, who lost to Callaway 20-14 in overtime last season, went 5-6 in 2014 and finished third in Region 1-AAAAA to make it to the state playoffs.
“I just want them to really taste success, to really come out and see the fruits of their hard work,” Burks said. “Keep working hard, and eventually (success) will come.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports