Before most high school football teams in the state hit the gridiron for their first regular season game, the Johnson High football team will have already been tested.
The Knights, under first-year head coach Jason Roquemore, are kicking off the 2012 season on Aug. 24 at home against West Hall in the annual Battle of Oakwood.
That means that Roquemore, hired in June after the departure of previous coach Paul Friel, has had to do a lot of work in a hurry to evaluate the team and install new systems.
He’s starting to see the results of that work.
"We have a pretty good idea about where our guys are going to fit," said Roquemore, who coached previously at North Cobb Christian. "And we want to continue to build on that as we move forward."
The coach said he’s very encouraged about the play of his offensive line so far in practice, which is important for a team looking to run the double slot offense, similar to that of Georgia Tech.
Mason Borders, John Avery and Lyrick Bright are the three leaders of the line, according to Roquemore, and he expects them to be able to open up holes for an already talented backfield that includes two returning starters who rushed for more than 2,000 yards combined last season.
Senior Cedric Harris (1,430 yards rushing in 2011) is one of the top running backs in the area and will play in the fullback position in the new offense.
"Cedric is by far the leader of the group, but we have three or four running backs who are very talented," Roquemore said.
The others include senior AJ Millwood, who ran for 714 yards last season and will be one of the two slot backs this season along with junior Michael Bookwalter.
The leading candidate at quarterback is senior Paul Barker, trying take over for 2011 starter Justin Thompson.
The new Knights quarterback will also have a few talented wide receivers to throw to when he drops back. Roquemore mentioned junior Jamison Owens as one of the top receivers available.
Roquemore is pleased with the way the front seven has looked so far.
On the line, the story has been sophomore Jesse Griggs.
"He’s just been unbelievable," the coach said.
"Really fun to watch. A great motor."
He will also be joined by a 2011 All-Region selection in junior Steve Rodriguez.
Linebacker could be the most talented unit on the field with last season’s top two tacklers in Harris and senior Jose Martinez, who Roquemore said is an emotional leader, returning. They will be joined by Millwood, who played in the secondary last season.
This season the secondary is the most wide open area of the team, with a group of young Knights in open competition for all positions.
The coach mentioned freshmen Dre Johnson and Orion Pittman, along with junior Luis Hernandez, as a few of the
better players in the mix for starting spots.
Freshman Isaac Henry and junior Efren Lopez are battling for the kicking duties this season.
As for the return game, Roquemore said he is evaluating a number of his secondary players as possibilities, and will also look into using Harris at times to provide a serious special teams threat.
The competition will look a little different this season with Johnson playing a non-region schedule, although the Knights still have four Hall County opponents on the schedule.
There are also a number of opportunities for Johnson to drastically improve on last season’s 0-10 record, starting with the early date against West Hall, a team the Knights lost to 35-21 last season.