Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coach Speak with Mt. Paran's Jordan and Charlton's McWhorter, ELCA's brutal gauntlet

Technical difficulties (user error!) have us behind schedule a bit here at Class A Blog Headquarters.  But we’ll soldier on with a couple of “Coach Speak” features, Mount Paran Christian’s Mitch Jordan and Charlton County’s Rich McWhorter, and a look at Eagle's Landing Christian’s brutal schedule.

And check back on Thursday afternoon for previews of some of the best games on the Class A slate in Week 2.


Coach Speak with Mt. Paran’s Mitch Jordan:  Are the Eagles title favorites?

Coming off of a 9-3 season in which Mount Paran Christian put itself firmly on the Class A football map, and after soundly defeating Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy – a program that has become synonymous with winning over the past five seasons – last week (31-14), the question has to be asked.

Is Mt. Paran a contender for the Class A private school state championship?

“We talk about taking one game at a time, and not looking ahead,” Eagle head coach Mitch Jordan said of his No. 4 Eagles.  “You can talk to [ELCA head] coach [Jonathan] Gess about how hard it is to win a state championship.  He’s had some great teams over there the past three or four seasons, and they’ve won one but it’s so hard.”

Still, Jordan knows expectations are high this season.  Most of the key players return from last year’s team that took eventual champion Aquinas to the wall in the state quarterfinals.  That includes a talented senior class that features quarterback Jake Allen, running backs Taylor Trammell and Dorian Walker, receiver Emoni Williams, linebacker Nick Sbravati and offensive linemen Phillip Addison and Jack Strong.

“They are a special group,” Jordan said. “They’re a close bunch and they’re all extremely competitive.  They expect to win.  They have that natural confidence that the younger guys feed off of.”

That confidence helped propel Mt. Paran over ELCA last week.  After jumping out to a 17-0 lead, ELCA trimmed the deficit to 17-8 in the third quarter and had the Eagles needing to convert a third-and-six from their own 34-yard line.  But Allen hit Williams with a 66-yard touchdown to essentially put the game away and end ELCA’s 38-game regular-season winning streak over Class A opponents.

“ELCA has set the bar for Class A football,” Jordan said. “They have so much tradition and coach Gess does such a tremendous job with his kids and that program.  They’re a little young now, but they’ll be seasoned by the time the playoffs come around.”

As will Mt. Paran.  Still, Jordan isn’t ready to schedule a parade through downtown Kennesaw just yet.

“So many things have to go your way,” he said. “You have to stay healthy and not turn the ball over.  It’s very difficult. But we feel like we have a pretty good team. We’ll see.”


Coach Speak with Charlton County’s Rich McWhorter:  Charlton County not quite back to glory yet.

Since taking over the program at Charlton County in 1991, Rich McWhorter had averaged 10 wins a season until 2012, when his team finished below .500 at 5-6.  Then last season Charlton County struggled a bit during the regular season before turning it on late and advancing to the Class A public school title game, where Charlton fell to Marion County 12-3.

But according to McWhorter, Charlton is not ready to jump back into the title mix just yet.  In fact, he believes his team has a long way to go.

“Right now, we’re not a very good football team at all,” McWhorter said of his team, which opens up the season in Macon on Saturday against Manchester, a Class AA team that finished 7-4 last year.

He pointed to Charlton’s scrimmage two weeks ago against Class AAA Pierce County, which finished 10-2 last season.  Charlton trailed 46-0 before the start of the fourth quarter.

“For those three quarters we were as bad as a football team can be,” McWhorter said. “In football, the goal is to tackle, run, block and run to the football.  We didn’t do any of those things well at all. Not one of them.

“But we lost 12 good kids last year, good kids and good players,” McWhorter said. “That’s really hard to replace at a small school.”

That senior class featured QB/P Trae Harrington, who was first team all-region, LB Lance Thompson, the school’s all-time leading tackler, and DT Will Gowen, now playing at Jacksonville.  This season, 33 of the 64 players in the Charlton program are new – 20 freshmen, 13 who decided to join the football team.

“When you have some success like we did last year, making it to the Dome, “ McWhorter said, “a lot of people want to come out and be part of that. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be good players.”

But McWhorter said all is not lost.  He said the freshmen class is very good. Many of them will play significant minutes this season and a handful of them will start. Also, the team is working hard to get better.

“Right now, that’s about all we can do,” McWhorter said. “No one has stepped up to where the rest of the team can say let’s follow that guy. All we know how to do is to keep working, hope to see improvement and hope we’re heading in the right direction.”


ELCA’s gauntlet

You would be hard pressed to find any team in the state with a schedule as difficult as ELCA’s.

Prior to the start of region play, Oct. 10 against Strong Rock Christian, all six of the Chargers’ opponents were playoff teams last season.  Here are some other tidbits about the six teams on the list – Mt. Paran, Stockbridge, Greater Atlanta Christian, Mt. Pisgah, Whitewater and Woodward Academy:

-- Three are from much higher classifications (Stockbridge, Class AAAAA; Whitewater and Woodward Academy, Class AAAA)

-- All but Stockbridge was ranked in the AJC preseason Top 10. Four are still there heading into Week 2:  Mt. Paran (No. 4 in Class A), GAC (No. 1 in Class AA), Whitewater (No. 9 in Class AAAA) and Woodward Academy (No. 8 in Class AAAA).

-- The combined regular season record of the six teams last season was 58-15, 8-6 in the playoffs.

While surviving that stretch should harden ELCA’s young team, it wasn’t what head coach Jonathan Gess wanted. Not at all.

“It’s a product of a couple of things,” Gess said.  “Realignment left us with six non-region games to fill and also, we’ve been blessed to have some pretty good teams lately, and so it was hard finding teams that would play us.

“Believe me, I did not want to play GAC, Whitewater, Stockbridge and Woodward Academy all in one season,” Gess said.  “I’m not happy about it and I definitely didn’t do it on purpose.”

After dropping the opener to Mt. Paran last Saturday, ELCA will look to get on the winning track Friday in its home opener against Stockbridge.

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