"Just trying to enjoy the moment"
A variety of drills was in the books on the August day, meaning K’Hari Lane was pretty soaked when he took a break.
He was part of a preseason story on the full plate of quality quarterbacks in Middle Georgia, having earned third-team All-Middle Georgia honors as a junior.
His breakout game came in a 17-14 loss to Peach County as a freshman when he was 14-of-18 passing for 258 yards. He went on to pass the 1,000-yard mark that season. He doubled that total as a sophomore, then bumped up the number to 3,156 yards as a junior.
So there was plenty of anticipation to see what kind of numbers Lane and a quality collection of skill-position teammates could rack up in 2016. There was no anticipation, however, from Lane. Numbers weren’t a concern.
Winning a state championship was. Period.
“From day one, all we were talking about was winning the championship,” Lane said. “Championship or bust.”
As it turned out, the 2016 season couldn’t have gone better for Lane. Macon County won the GHSA Region 4-1A title, Lane broke the state touchdown passing record in the Class 1A public school championship game, and the Bulldogs captured that state title in fine fashion, 35-0 over McIntosh County Academy.
And Lane has capped the dream senior season as The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Football Player of the year.
He did so in a season full of quality quarterbacks in Middle Georgia, with Houston County’s Jake Fromm, Peach County’s Antonio Gilbert, Jones County’s Bradley Hunnicutt and FPD’s Dalton Cox cruising past 2,000 yards passing. Taylor County’s Gunnar Watson and Northside’s Tobias Oliver passed for more than 1,500 yards, while Oliver also rushed for 1,361 yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns passing, rushing and receiving.
Macon County head coach Dexter Copeland remembers his introduction to Lane, in the spring of 2015 after head coach Larry Harold left for Brunswick and Copeland took part in a player Q&A during the interview process.
“He was asking me questions about if I got the head coaching job, how would I coach quarterbacks and what kind of offense we were gonna run,” Copeland said. “I was wondering why this big ol’ kid was asking me all these quarterback questions, as I answered the questions not knowing he was the quarterback.
“I was like, ‘It depends on what kind of quarterback I have what we’re gonna run on offense. We’ve got a quarterback in here?’ He raised his hand. ‘Oh, you’re the quarterback?’ He was so big.”
Lane played at around 245 pounds as a junior and had clearly slimmed down entering his senior season, more than doubling his rushing yardage for 584 more yards on 23 fewer attempts. And, of course, there were the 56 touchdown passes in a season, passing Hutson Mason for the record.
Lane set the state mark, but Cartersville junior Trevor Lawrence wasn’t far behind with 51, now the No. 3 mark (to go with his No. 8 mark of 43 last year). Fromm is among three others to pass for at least 40 touchdowns in 2016.
Lane’s 3,740 passing yards are No. 3 this year and among the top 10 all-time for a single season, 5 yards behind Clemson standout Deshaun Watson at Gainesville in 2013. Lane’s career total of 10,217 yards is fourth all-time in Georgia, and he is one of only four players to pass the 10,000-yard mark, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Two others did it this year, as well, joining Watson.
Perhaps the most astounding statistic of Lane’s final season was that he threw only two interceptions in 319 pass attempts. And he won’t say what Copeland will. They weren’t Lane’s fault. One was after the wrong route was run, the other on a bobbled screen pass.
Lane said the receiver apologized and was told it was unnecessary.
Copeland didn’t see Lane throw until he made a trip to Montezuma a few weeks after getting the job, and some Bulldogs were out on the practice field. And Copeland started counting the days until the first game.
“I remember calling my wide receiver coach (Courtney Williams) and saying, ‘Man, you want to see this kid we’ve got down here. He can throw the ball,” Copeland said. “I knew we had something special.”
Lane is smart — he has a 3.4 grade point average and is an NCAA qualifier — and personable, and he leads less by voice than by action.
“He has grown a lot from a freshman to now,” offensive lineman Peter Eaddie said. “He’s a real coachable player. I see the effort he puts in after practice.
“He’s real coachable, he puts in the effort, he puts in overtime, whatever he’s gotta do. He’s motivated to get better.”
Motivation, a quality corps of receivers and intelligence all are part of the remarkably low interception number.
“Our offense can get a little complex,” Copeland said. “He picked up our offense real fast, and he added some of his own twists to the offense. He’s a real smart kid, very smart football player, very smart academically.
“He picked up on things and got us ahead of where I thought we would be.”
Lane’s future is still cloudy. Like many of the state’s record-setting quarterbacks, in either yards or touchdowns, he’s not high on Power 5 conference radars, although Tennessee and Michigan State have been visitors since the championship game, with Nevada, Southern in Louisiana and Miami of Ohio also showing more interest.
His lone true offers are Grambling State, Howard and Hampton, three historically black colleges on the FCS level. Perceptions about size are an issue; Copeland said Lane has been listed at a variety of heights.
“If people get down here and measure him, (he’s) 6-2, 230,” Copeland said. “If he was 6-4, 6-5, everybody in the country would be down here.”
Lane, who is the same height as three of the four starting quarterbacks in the NCAA Division I semifinals, is still somewhat patient.
“Basically, I feel like this. If they don’t understand that I am a player, then it’s not meant for me to be there,” Lane said. “All it takes is for one school to give me my shot, and I’ll go work and grind and do the rest.”
So for now, Lane will wait until the holidays are over to focus on recruiting and visits. As it is, Santa will have some work to do to make Christmas more special than the past few months.