When new coach Mario Allen met with the Banneker football players for the first time at the beginning of the summer, there was some skepticism. After all, Allen was about to become the program’s sixth head coach in eight seasons.
Then Allen got their attention. Over the summer some of his former players came through to work out. There was Gerald Everett, who was a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams, and Eric Smith, who plays for Miami Dolphins, and Jhaustin Thomas , who was released by the Indianapolis late in training camp. All three of those guys played for Allen when he was the head coach at DeKalb County’s Columbia High.
They all came with the same message.
“Those guys told them, ‘Trust in what coach is telling ya’ll. Trust him and buy into the process,’” Allen said.
The young team has believed and taken the steps prescribed by Allen, who is a longtime assistant at numerous area high schools and for 10 years in college. The result has been impressive and the back-to-back winless seasons from 2014 and 2015 are fading away.
Banneker is off to a 4-0 start for only the third time since the school opened in 1988. The 1999 team and 2011 team both won their first four games. But this year’s team could be the first to start 5-0 if the Trojans can beat Maynard Jackson on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Grady Stadium.
Allen has emphasized a focus on the team. The players come to school on Mondays dressed in white shirts and red ties. Each Wednesday they wear a polo shirt with the team colors.
“We’re looking for that unity, that team aspect of it,” Allen said. “We trying to show them how to play as a team, how to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.”
The Trojans are led by quarterback Dionte Bonneau and wide receiver/defensive back Tarique Dennis, a pair of seniors. They are the exception; 60 of the 70 players on the Banneker roster are underclassmen. Bonneau has thrown for 333 yards and rushed for 183 yards and five touchdowns. Dennis has four receptions, one of them for a 61-yard touchdown, and three pass interceptions.
Junior Gary Benton is the team’s top running back and starts at defensive back. He has rushed for 207 yards. Freshman Kobe Harris has run for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense has good linebackers in DreQuan Eason and Jaylin Williams, with Trevon Pope starting in the secondary and Brandon Holt going both ways on the line.
“Right now, we’re focused on finishing everything we do,” Allen said. “We’ve got to keep them humble. And we don’t take anything for granted. We practice as hard as we would if we hadn’t won a game.”
Starr’s Mill at Morrow: No. 7 Starr’s Mill (4-0) scored an important non-region win last week against Sandy Creek and opens Region 3 play against upstart Morrow (3-1), which did not play last week.
Starr’s Mill features a skillful running attack led by tailback Cole Gilley, who has run for 279 yards and eight touchdowns in three games. Kalen Sims (286 yards, four TDs), Mitchell Prowant (185 yards, two TDs), Nick Brown (155 yards) and quarterback Joey Deluca (151 yards) lead the attack.
Morrow (3-1) is led by running back Tabious Clemmons and quarterback Kris Clark. The Mustangs are off to their best start since 1998.
Starr’s Mill leads the series 6-1. Morrow’s only win came n 1998. Starrs Mill won 49-0 last season and the Panthers have shutout Morrow in five their meetings.
Cedar Shoals at Clarke Central: The Battle of Athens will have definite effect on the Region 8 race. Clarke Central (3-1) has lost only to Class AAAAAA No. 9 Winder-Barrow and has won three straight games. Cedar Shoals has won its first three games.
Clarke is led by quarterback Jack Mangell, who has thrown for 652 yards and six touchdowns, and tailback Jonathan Sewell, who has rushed for 512 yards and surpassed 100 yards in each game.
Clarke Central leads the series 35-15 and has won the last nine meetings, including 38-12 in 2016.
Arabia Mountain at East Coweta: This will be a big test for Arabia Mountain (3-1), as the Rams step up in weight division to take on Class AAAAAAA East Coweta (3-1). Arabia Mountain lost a 20-14 decision to East Coweta last year. Quarterback Bryson Williams has thrown for 546 yards and seven touchdowns and Joshua Campbell has rushed for 274 yards and six touchdowns for the Rams. Arabia Mountain’s defense is one of the best in DeKalb County and allows just 71.5 yards on the round per game, an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.
Ware County at Northside Warner Robins: Ware County hasn’t played since Sept. 1, losing a game against Grady because of weather and postponing this one a week because of weather. The Gators (0-2) have played a vicious schedule and will be at home for the first time. The stout Ware defense is led by Jordon Turner, Denzel Stephenson, Ernest Jones and Logan Braucht. The Gators have produced 13 tackles for loss in their first two games. Northside is No. 6 in Class AAAAAA.