East Hall’s Devin Watson didn’t try to dial back his athletic brilliance, even though Monday’s competition against Johnson was just the first of two days in the NFL High School Player Development Camp sponsored by the Atlanta Falcons at East Hall Stadium.
After battling on both sides of the football — just like he’ll do in the regular season for the Vikings — Watson stepped in front of a pass on the game’s final play for an interception, then broke out in a big smile giggling as he sprinted the other way, like there were points to be scored on the other side of the field.
Afterward, Watson said it’s more fun to play defense in such passing leagues, since the quarterback is required to throw in the 7-on-7 format. Watson’s pick on the game’s final play was not quite as difficult as his first of the game, when he jammed a receiver and went straight up in the air with both hands extended in order to make the interception.
East Hall’s quarterback, who threw for more than 2,400 yards as a junior, said camp in the summer is spirited when it’s against Hall County rivals. Joining East Hall and Johnson for the free camp for players were Chestatee, Union County and Banks County.
“It’s always fun to be able to play against other teams from the county,” said Watson, who already holds a scholarship offer from Navy. “I’ve been playing against a lot of these guys since about third grade.”
Smaller than in previous seasons, East Hall coach said Bryan Gray said the fourth installment of the camp was capped by the NFL but was still able to serve approximately 320 players total. Gray said it takes a generous contribution financially, exceeding $10,000 to cover everything from jerseys for the players to promoting the event, one of the four throughout the state this summer, according to Gray.
“We’re just trying to teach and develop the players to play in a positive atmosphere,” said Gray. “It’s great to have all the kids out here be able to get reps on the field.”
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said the High School Player Development Camp is good for instruction, while giving players quality reps.
There was no score kept. No fans in the bleachers. Still, it was taken seriously with coaches barking out instructions with games going simultaneously on both ends of the field, while one team took a break during each of three games in the afternoon that lasted about 30 minutes each.
Roquemore said he was able to bring all 66 Johnson players from his program.
The players were divided with primarily with varsity players competing in Vikings Stadium, while younger players got a crack at facing off on the lower field.
As part of the one-day camp for the big guys that play in the trenches, there was a linemen challenge Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day, there were four character development lectures covering separately managing relationships, academic success, leadership and internet safety.
Atlanta Falcons Youth and Prep Football Coordinator David Quiroga also spoke to the players.
Then in the afternoon, it was time to strap on the helmet and play some two-hand touch.
As the top returning player at his position in Hall County, Watson continued to show why he is a rising college prospect, zipping passes between defenders, and then against Johnson tossed a waist-high pass on a corner route that his receiver caught on his outside hip.
Each time Watson finished a series on offense, he’d run back to around midfield, grab his gloves off the grass and drop back to his defensive position at safety.
One of the players on the opposite end trying to defend Watson was Johnson’s own two-way standout Orion Pittman. He said it was good for the Knights to have some success throwing the ball in the afternoon, even though it will primarily be a team based around the run game in the fall.
“We dropped a few passes, but caught more than we dropped,” said Pittman, who plays wide receiver and free safety for Johnson.
As for the hot and sticky air on the field? Well, that just comes with the territory training to play football during the summer in Georgia.
“It could be snowing, and I’d still be playing football,” said Pittman.
Chestatee’s first-year coach Bill Forman said it was great to have his players out and start to compete against local programs in a cordial environment, while still being able to instruct players when they make a mistake.
“It’s been a beautiful day,” said Forman. “Any day we can come out and put the helmets on, regardless of weather, is a good day.”
Watson said summer is important for East Hall as it works in a new zone-read offense, similar to the one Auburn used to make it all the way to the BCS National Championship game in college football last season.
“Being able to come out here and compete is good to help with our reads and get everyone in tune together,” said Watson, who is also receiving interest from Georgia Tech.
According to Pittman, another player that was impressive among the handful of Northeast Georgia programs on hand was Union County quarterback Joseph Mancuso, who was one of the state’s most proficient passers last season with almost 2,700 yards through the air and 27 passing touchdowns.
“Union County’s quarterback does a good job of leading his wide receivers open and getting them the ball,” said Pittman.
The camp wraps up Tuesday at East Hall with a handful of games both before and after a lunch break for the five schools attending.