In more ways than one, this is a season of transition for the Stratford football team.
After an appearance in the GISA Class AAA championship game last season, Stratford is one of three Macon private school programs making the move to the GHSA.
There’s also a change in personnel. Quintez Cephus, who led Stratford to the GISA Class AAA basketball title in March, is adding football to his resume and is expected to be a major contributor. His basketball teammate, O’Showen Williams, is also expected to play a big role on the football team after playing last fall at FPD.
The constant in all of this? Stratford’s offensive line, which is largely intact from last season.
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Four starters return from last year’s group, which played a key role in Stratford going 10-3 with a 33-point scoring average. They did so as they made the transition from the spread offense of former head coach Rodney Collins to the wing-T of current head coach Mark Farriba.
“They bring a lot of experience,” Farriba said. “They have sort of been through the game situations. They have had a year under their belt with a new offensive system and terminology and getting used to wing-T type stuff. That’s usually a big deal, to go from year one to year two with that.”
There was a bit of a learning curve at first, partially attributable to strength of schedule and partially attributable to the change in schemes. Misdirection is a big part of the wing-T, and that meant a lot of playbook study and development of muscle memory.
After starting the season with two wins, Stratford lost by a touchdown at home to Deerfield-Windsor and fell by a point at Westfield. Even though the losses knocked the Eagles back to .500, the margin of the defeats was closer than the previous season.
“We were used to more man-on-man blocking from sophomore and freshman year,” said offensive tackle Conner Collins, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior who is a three-year starter. “The offense that we ran was more of a spread offense and a one-on-one blocking scheme whenever we did run the ball. Once we transitioned to the wing-T, Coach Farriba taught us how to do it well, how to do it successfully.”
Things went in a positive direction after that. Stratford went on an eight-game winning streak heading into a state championship rematch against Westfield. That streak included a one-point win at rival Tattnall Square and a two-touchdown win over Mount de Sales, as well as a pair of runaway playoff wins prior to a three-point title game loss at Mercer University Stadium.
“Once we got the hang of things on knowing how to run the plays, we executed well,” said center Alex Koplin, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound senior. “We pretty much stayed together as an offensive line and pushed through every game. The transition was tough, but once we got the hang of things, it was all right.”
With all of that experience coming back and with new (but athletic) players lining up in the backfield, there is a leadership expectation for the line this fall.
“Last year, we had a fantastic offensive line,” said wingback Sean Grossnickle, a starter last season who will team with Cephus and Williams in the backfield this fall. “They picked up the wing-T really well. We were coached extremely well (in terms of) keeping the backs and line together. The timing was all good; it was all there. We are really looking forward to doing that again this season.”
Said Farriba, “(Many of the backfield players) either are young or a little inexperienced or inexperienced to us. I’ve told those guys up front that they are going to carry the load. They are going to really, really have to make it happen for us, especially early on.”
STRATFORD IN 2014
Head coach: Mark Farriba (144-84-3 in 20 seasons overall; 37-23 in five seasons at Stratford).
2013 record: 10-3.
2014 region: GHSA 7A-A.
Returning starters: 6 on offense; 4 on defense.
Players to watch: Quintez Cephus (Jr., QB); Noah Hill (Soph., QB); Sean Grossnickle (Sr., WR/DB); O’Showen Williams (Jr., WB/DB); Thomas Traynham (Jr., WB/DB); Kasey Sanders (Soph, FB/LB); Austin Devenney (Sr., WB/LB); Cole Garrett (Sr., OL/DL); Carter Canady (Jr., OL/DL); Conner Collins (Sr., OL/DL); Alex Koplin (Sr., OL/DL); John Michael O’Quinn (Jr., TE/LB); Lawson Massey (Sr., WR/DB).
Aug. 29 Savannah Country Day
Sept. 5 Wesleyan
Sept. 19 at Aquinas
Sept. 26 GMC
Oct. 3 at FPD
Oct. 10 at Tattnall Square
Oct. 17 at Twiggs County
Oct. 24 Mount de Sales
Oct. 31 Wilkinson County
Nov. 7 Region 7-A crossover