High School Sports

Focus is on QBs as Warhawks, Bears kick off rivalry

The quarterbacks are well-known, carrying high expectations.

Pride is the mantra of the offensive lines, which must protect those quarterbacks. Receivers feel joy because of those quarterbacks and their ability to put the ball near their hands.

Then there are the defensive backs and some linebackers, those who must defend what the quarterbacks can do and the teammates they can do things with.

The matchup isn’t Veterans’ Logan Byrd against Houston County’s Jake Fromm. It’s those two against defenses, which will be focused on pass coverage along with trying to corral two quarterbacks similar in ability who try to move offenses with different fortes.

“I think they’re different,” Houston County receiver/cornerback Darion Anderson said. “Jake’s more of a throwing quarterback, and Logan kind of runs and throws.”

Byrd weighs 230 pounds, about 60 more than Anderson, and will tuck the ball and run.

“Yeah, I know,” Anderson said with a tone of clear recognition of that fact that he’ll get a chance to get in the way. “We’ve got to stay focused and make sure we stop him.”

The two youngest programs in Houston County will meet for the first time Thursday at McConnell-Talbert Stadium in a game with the intensity of one normally involving the long-time residents of the facility, Northside or Warner Robins.

With only about seven miles separating the two practice fields, familiarity between the Bears and Warhawks (ranked ninth in GHSA Class AAAA) is plentiful.

“Mainly the student sections,” Anderson said of the pregame chatter. “Just students. We’ll let our game do the talking.”

Veterans cornerback DJ Rozier, who will face Anderson plenty, isn’t playing any social media games, either.

“I just speak on the field,” he said. “I just speak with my pads.”

Byrd and Fromm are two of the top quarterbacks in the state, and both are underclassmen (Byrd is a junior and Fromm a sophomore) with experience and size (Byrd is 6-foot-3 and 230, while Fromm is 6-2, 200).

They combined to pass for 2,670 yards last year (Byrd 1,378 and Fromm 1,206), completing 52.5 percent of their passes. Byrd had seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, Fromm eight and seven.

Expectations are that they’ll improve drastically on the total yardage number -- note that Byrd was a first-year full-time starter and Fromm eventually won the job -- and complete around 60 percent of their passes this season.

The linebackers and defensive backs open the season with a tremendous need to be on point against a pair of young quarterbacks already getting quality FBS-level attention. Head coaches David Bruce and Von Lassiter dance around discussions of strategy, especially with a week to prepare after scrimmages. But a few series in, the defensive chess matches will pick up speed, between bringing pressure and dropping into coverage, while disguising the plan.

Veterans defensive linemen Sam Dumas and Jamar Simmons combined for 96 tackles and 15 sacks last year. Behind them, Rashaad Bolton had eight tackles for loss, as well as two interceptions while Rozier had three interceptions.

Anderson certainly gave the Warhawks something to think about with his performance in the scrimmage with Perry. He caught touchdown passes of 42 and 57 yards from Fromm, scored from 3 yards out from the quarterback position and took a kickoff back 99 yards.

“You’ve gotta know where he’s at,” said Bruce, comparing Anderson to graduated Mary Persons do-everything athlete Akebren Ralls, now at Kennesaw State. “He can do it to you. He’s a game-changer.”

Linebackers Zach Taisler, a Kennesaw State commitment, and Khenon Walker lead the Bears on defense, and the front seven has some experience. But the Bears have a mostly new secondary, except for Anderson. Veterans has experience in the defensive backfield, although senior safety Jacob Cornett is out with a wrist.

“I’m feeling pretty confident because our secondary is mostly all seniors,” Rozier said. “It’s like I tell the linebackers and DBs, ‘We’ve got trust each other. We gotta trust that the person is gonna be there.’ ”

Veterans is without starting running back Desjuan Harris (broken arm), leaving the Warhawks inexperienced at running back and perhaps putting more pressure on Byrd, although being battle-tested for more than a year as a starter is a bonus.

Lassiter said Tuesday that tickets were going fast with people lining up to make the purchase. McConnell-Talbert seats about 8,000, with a fair amount of standing-room only space, and it’s doubtful this will feel like a season opener.

“Regular-season game, this is probably as fired up as I’ve ever seen our student body,” Bruce said. “A lot of people are excited. I really think it’ll be that playoff atmosphere.”