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High school football: Cherokee Bluff looking to maintain tradition in 2022
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Cherokee Bluff football practice July 12, 2022 in Flowery Branch. - photo by Bill Murphy

BY ISAAC THOMAS 

For The Times

Cherokee Bluff has experienced a rise to football success faster than any school ever in Hall County. 

Entering Year 5, the Bears have won back-to-back Region 7-3A championships and posted consecutive seasons with double-digit wins. 

Still, the 2022 season will not come without questions as Cherokee Bluff makes the move up to Region 8-4A. Bears coach Tommy Jones said the current roster isn’t his deepest group of seniors in terms of numbers, but they are still bringing abundant talent back this season. 

In Region 8-4A, Cherokee Bluff will face the gauntlet of a schedule that will have plenty of talented squads, led by 2021 state semifinalist North Oconee.

Cherokee Bluff, North Hall, Cedar Shoals and East Forsyth will be a few of the other frontrunners in the hunt to earn one of the four postseason berths.

Jones added that Chestatee, Madison County and Walnut Grove are also much improved. 

“Top to bottom, there’s going to be a lot of parity in our region,” Jones said. “A lot of teams with a lot of talent and great coaches.”

Leading the way for Cherokee Bluff is senior offensive lineman Jacob Benjamin, a three-year starter who has already committed to play at Army. On that same unit, he’ll be teammed up with 280-pound junior Caleb Williford, Parker Waldrop, Noah Davis and Will Hansen in the starting five. 

At tight end, Carter Daum is anticipated to be the main playmaker. Junior tight end Ryan Graves was expected to be one of the standouts for the Bears in 2022, but he went down with an injury in the spring that will likely require him to miss the entire season, Jones said. 

At wide receiver for the Bears it will be a committee led by Jhace Justice, Max Eubanks, Carlos Marlow and Jordan Justice, among others. Cherokee Bluff’s coach feels like Jhace Justice, a senior, has really separated himself as a leader for its unit of ball catchers. 

“Jhace is extremely athletic, he is twitchy, and just has an extremely uncanny ability to make plays,” Jones said. “He is a gamer on Friday nights, for sure.”

At running back, Cherokee Bluff has plenty of options, but looking to see who rises to the top. 

For now, Connor Griffin, Conner Hulsey, Jaylon Carrol, Xavier Griffin, and Perry Haynes will likely all get a chance to show what they got carrying the ball. 

In 2022, Cherokee Bluff will be turning the page after the three stellar seasons by Jayquan Smith, who ran for more than 1,600 yards as a senior last year. 

On offense, the Bears are also replacing another pair of Division-I football signees: wide receiver Marlion Jackson (Louisiana Tech) and offensive tackle Matteo Guevara (Middle Tennessee State). On the defensive front, Benjamin, Waldrop and Nathan Richardson are established as starters. 

At linebacker, it’s going to be Daum, Griffin, Jacob Kelly and Reid Silver who will man the middle of the defense. 

In the secondary, sophomores Landon Kemp and Kaden Thompson will get a chance to start at safety, while the Justices will start at cornerback. Xavier Diaz and Michael Arbour will handle the kicking and punting duties for the Bears. 

Eubanks, Jordan Justice, Jhace Justice and Landon Kemp are four of the leading names who will get a shot at returning kicks and punts.

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