Why Athens Academy embraced young players last season and how it will pay off in 2022 - ABH
Athens Academy embraced its youth last season when it started as many as five freshmen on the defensive side of the ball.
Coaches believed that group of players had enough talent to compete at the varsity level, but they were also focused on a future that begins this Friday when the Spartans travel to Dade County for their season opener.
"We had some rough times or whatever, but we were just getting experience," said senior running back Tre Hawkins. "This year, those guys that were freshman last year are going to be sophomores with more experience, they’ll know what to look forward to in certain situations. I’m glad that we did that."
Building blocks for Athens Academy
The Spartans finished 8-4 and reached the second round of the state playoffs, but it was their fewest wins since 2014 and only the second time in five seasons without double-digit victories.
They are hopeful to build the team back to the powerhouse they were in 2017 and 2018 when they reached back-to-back state title games.
"We decided to do that early on and we hope that it pays off, because we did take our lumps last year," said head coach Josh Alexander. "We had a good season, but it was one of those seasons where we were growing every week. We just hope it pays off in the long run."
Even with the youth, upperclassmen such as Hawkins, quarterback Sam Bush and linebacker Jimmy Humphries have been valued assets for Alexander.
They've helped behind the scenes as the players were able to mature on the field.
"It’s been fun to watch our senior class develop some of these younger guys and set an example and just show them how we do it and how we bring people up and do it the right way," Alexander said. "We’re really excited to see what everybody can do, but the main thing is just to remain healthy."
Bush and Hawkins return for a potent backfield that piled up yardage a season ago. With the maturity of the sophomores and junior Austin McGee, the Spartans are eager to display the talent they believe they have.
There's several speedy young players that Alexander and staff watched fly around a track during the spring. McGee, the son of UGA running backs coach Dell McGee, finished fourth in the 100-meter dash at May's Class A Private state championship.
Sophomore Jamari Welch finished just off the podium in the 100-meter race as did junior Preston Darden in the 400 meters. The three were members of the school's four-runner team that placed third in the 4x200 and sixth in the 4x100 relays.
Alexander now is ready to see that speed translate to the gridiron.
"You have these kids that are track kids that run fast and throw the ball far, so it’s going to be fast and let them run," Alexander said. "We haven’t had this kind of speed at Athens Academy in the last eight years. We’ve had some kids that could run, but not like this."