During the summer, the West Hall high football team found itself in the midst of a quarterback battle.
Rising senior Quentin Smith and rising sophomore Clayton Jenkins were two lead candidates for the starting gig at West Hall, both pushing one another to their limits until Smith ultimately came out of the Spartans’ fall camp as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart. While first-year head coach Krofton Montgomery predicted it was Smith’s job to win all along, he had no reservations about Jenkins — the young up-and-comer.
Montgomery along with his staff knew that no matter what, they would be alright.
At some point, Montgomery figured, Jenkins would rise up the ranks. Little did he know, Jenkins’ developmental track would suddenly change course — and pace — by Week 4.
During a loss against 10th-ranked Dawson County, Montgomery watched as starting quarterback Smith, both starting running backs (Solomon Riley, Michael Thompson), and right guard Ricky Castillo went down with injures in the opening quarter. In a game all about embracing your opportunities, backup quarterback Jenkins was one to take full advantage when the time came.
But it was last Friday night when Jenkins gave his coaches a real glimpse into the future of West Hall football.
In just his second-career start, Jenkins became the first West Hall quarterback in six seasons to throw for over 230 yards (257) with three touchdowns — including two to wideout Devon Williams — to boost the Spartans to a big 48-27 road win over Region 7-4A newcomer Denmark in Alpharetta.
Jenkins, who completed 13 of 19 throws in the region contest, could have very-well gone 17 of 19 for 300-plus passing yards and four scores if not for four drops — including a one in the end zone — according to his coach. It was still a positive step in a direction Montgomery has this offense headed, in an effort to implement more of a vertical attack this season.
“For him to throw for over 250 in a game — and that’s never been what we’ve done [in my time here at West Hall] — with the amount of passes he threw, was a really special thing,” Montgomery said. “The moxy he had, the way he managed the team, the way he got all play calls in and manage the way everybody lined up.”
Jenkins, who said the team’s weekly pregame ritual of blasting music in the locker room helped him focus, gave most credit to his offensive line, and the many guys around him.
“The people I play with, they give me so much confidence,” Jenkins said. “Like, I can stand back there, and know they’ll catch it if I throw it to them. The team confidence (right now) is just phenomenal.”
Jenkins exuded confidence and poise with a number of those passes thrown in tight windows. In the first of a pair of huge completions to his favored target Williams (100 receiving yards), Jenkins hit his man with a back-shoulder throw deep downfield. On another hookup, Williams, who was matched with Clemson commit Ze’Vian Capers, later broke on a slant and hauled in another perfectly timed pass from Jenkins to move the chains.
Smith, who has been able to line up in the slot at receiver the last two games, also caught a touchdown pass from Jenkins.
“(Clayton’s) got one of those mindsets where he’s gonna give his receivers a chance to make those plays,” Montgomery said. “As a result, they run their routes a little crisper, and they run their routes more down the field. ..He’s gonna give them an opportunity to make those plays.”
And It all goes back to Jenkins’ work ethic, and weekly preparation according to Montgomery. Spartans offensive coordinator Will Gross spends much of his time prepping their quarterbacks through film sessions commencing at 7 a.m. during the week. Jenkins has been on time to every single one, never missing a team meeting this season.
“He just has an intrinsic motivation inside of him that, he wants to be good, he believes he’s good and believes he can play with anybody,” Montgomery said.
Watching the film, Montgomery compared Jenkins instincts and throwing mechanics to recent East Hall grad Austin Parker, who in 2017 threw for a Hall County record 4,563 yards and ranked fifth in state history for career passing yards with 9,573.
“He’s a competitor, and I think you’re gonna hear his name around here the next couple of years,” Montgomery said. “He has no fear of what needs to be done.”
In what has already been one of the tougher schedules West Hall (2-4, 1-1 Region 7-4A) has faced — and on the heels of three-straight losses to powerhouses Jefferson, Dawson County and defending Class 4A champion Blessed Trinity — Jenkins’ breakout performance was one of a few Friday night that put the Spartans back on track toward their ultimate goal of a sixth-straight playoff appearance.
West Hall’s offense shook off some opening-drive jitters and put up 20-straight points against the Danes (4-2, 1-1) before carrying a 27-7 lead into intermission.
Despite some lapses in the third quarter and watching Denmark climb back within seven throughout the second half, Montgomery watched his players — including his new quarterback — step up and finish when it mattered most.
The Spartans outscored Denmark 21-7 in the fourth quarter, getting touchdowns from Thompson, Williams and a defensive scoop-and-score from Corey Dupree (two sacks, interception) off a Danes’ fumble in the final minutes.
For the game, the Spartans forced six turnovers — including a Jeremiah Prather pick-six in the first period.
“It was really fulfilling to see the team kind of grow up,” Montgomery said. “There’s some maturation that took place. ...If we play as a team where we have each others backs like we did on Friday, and play with the confidence and looseness, good things can happen for us.”
Montgomery, whose team has now spent the last five games away from the Hot Gates of Spartan Field, hopes to finish off this road trip with a promising performance against sixth-ranked Marist (5-1, 2-1) this Friday in another big region contest.