OAKWOOD — Junior tight end Malcolm Young was able to compete with his Riverside Military teammates in Thursday’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes passing camp and lineman challenge at Johnson High School, even though it required a day-long drive prior from his home in Miami with his mother and cousin to make it in time.
Eagles second-year coach Gary Downs hopes that’s a good sign for the future, managing to work out the logistics of getting players for the private boarding school to the area in summer months, even though the majority of his roster lives outside Northeast Georgia.
“When I found out it was an FCA camp, I knew I wanted to come,” said Young, who enrolled at Riverside Military the second semester of his sophomore year, and plans on having his family move closer to the area.
Downs knows he has to work a little harder to compile an offseason program, even if it means transporting players himself to camps and clinics. So far, he’s been pleased with the results. Earlier this month, Riverside Military carried a group to the University of Georgia for a passing competition.
“We might have only had 10 players at Georgia, but you can only play seven at a time,” said Downs, who applauded the FCA for conducting such a robust competition.
In 2013, passing camps are the norm for every program looking to compete in the world of fast-paced, spread formations. It also breaks up the monotony and summer doldrums that simply lifting weights and running sprints can bring about for players eager to throw on the pads.
“When we come here, we focus on getting the younger guys in and playing as many reps as possible,” Gainesville senior linebacker Devan Stringer said. “For the older guys, we’re just trying to refine our skills.”
The defending Class AAAAA state champion Red Elephants had two squads on hand for the FCA passing day, the fifth they’ve participated in this season, coach Bruce Miller said. Also from Hall County, host Johnson and Chestatee were on hand. Out-of-county programs that attended were Rabun County, Banks County and Gilmer.
The rules of the FCA camp were a little different than some: No score was kept, and each of the six game sessions included 15 minutes of offense and defense for each program.
“This is a great opportunity to bring our players out and compete,” said second-year Rabun County coach Lee Shaw, who one day earlier took his Wildcats to his compete at Flowery Branch, where he coached nine seasons.
Meanwhile, first-year Banks County coach Biff Parson uses all the summer passing leagues, such as the FCA Day, to acclimate to his player personnel, while letting the kids get used to a Leopards staff with four new coaches.
“This is all part of the evaluation process,” Parson said. “We’re able to see them compete and make changes.”
Without pads, players are more frequently going to lay out and make remarkable catches. Going against Banks County, Riverside Military’s Garrison Ivey made a diving catch behind a defender near the goal line.
Two plays later, Brandon Grant watched the ball in for the Eagles after it was tipped by two different defenders.
There was also an obvious line of elite quarterback talent from past, present and future represented. The state’s all-time leading passer, senior Deshaun Watson, was present later in the day for the Red Elephants.
Meanwhile, former Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw, a Flowery Branch grad, is working as an assistant for his father at Rabun County and coaching up the Wildcats’ promising freshman signal caller Hunter Sims, the younger brother of Gainesville grad and University of Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.
Rabun County also has one of Northeast Georgia’s top athletes in 6-foot-4 sophomore wide receiver Charlie Woerner, who caught passes for 630 yards as a freshman in 2012.