Defending champion Cedar Grove continues to roll with fresh faces

Cedar Grove’s Darrel Neal churns up the middle as Southwest DeKalb’s Jervon Mannery is in pursuit. (Photo – Mark Brock)

The defending Class AAA champions Cedar Grove Saints are 2-0 this season, and both victories have come against opponents from higher classifications. The Saints won their opener against Class AAAAAA Stephenson 34-13 then moved past Class AAAAA Southwest DeKalb 37-7 in Week 2.

Cedar Grove, ranked second in the state behind Greater Atlanta Christian, has one more non-classification game Friday against Class AAAAA Columbia, before beginning Region 5-AAA play Sept. 15 against No. 10 Lovett.

Saints head coach Jimmy Smith spoke Tuesday about how his team is performing, which teams concern him as the Saints move toward region play and what he sees in the classification’s top-ranked team, GAC.

Q. How is your team looking this season, in comparison to last year’s Class AAA championship group?

A. We feel pretty good, they understand that this is all a process and we have to continue to get better week-to-week. We have some guys from last year, some younger guys, who understand what it takes to be a winning team. So they are doing what they’re supposed to do right now to get better every week.

Q. You lost several key players from last year’s team — quarterback Jelani Woods to Oklahoma State and offensive linemen Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer to Georgia. How do you fill the holes?

Cedar Grove’s Netori Johnson (72), Justin Shaffer (77) and Jelani Woods (17) celebrate their win against Greater Atlanta Christian during the Class AAA state championship game Friday at the Georgia Dome. (Jason Getz/Special)

A. We are doing a few things differently, offensively and defensively. On defense, we just have to be quicker. Offensively, we have a quarterback who can run a little bit, so things are bit different there. Xavier Dennis does a great job of not making mistakes. We haven’t turned the ball over. He is really good with his feet and can make plays. The best thing is he can make me look right when I call some plays, so that is a good thing.

Q. What does the Class AAA landscape look like thus far?

A. I don’t even really look at it a lot. Not right now. People will tell me, “Y’all are ranked so-and-so,” and I don’t even know half the time what they are talking about. Which rankings? I don’t even know. I just have to make sure my team is ready. We have to get better every week if you want to be the best at the most important time of the season.”

Q. With region play coming up, who has your attention?

A. Oh man, Westminster is going to be well-coached and have a good team. They are going to be a great defensive team. Pace is going to be athletic, and to be honest, all the teams are really good. Those teams right there are the ones that will make you spend a couple of extra hours at night trying to figure out what they are trying to do, and hopefully we can compete with them.

Q. How does this year’s GAC team look as opposed to the team you met in the Georgia Dome last year?

A. I haven’t had the chance to look at them, but I know they are on their game. I know they’re good. I know (Kyler McMichael), who plays running back and corner, he is a great player, and I know he will be good this year. I know the quarterback (Josh Rose) who has replaced Davis Mills is doing a great job. I know (Coach Hardy) has put them in a great situation, offensively.


View Comments 0