Sandy Creek slates epic Florida matchup

Sonny Kennedy

The Sandy Creek Patriots cruised to the Class AAAA state championship last season and claimed their third state title in four years. Head coach Chip Walker and his squad have high expectations this season, and will once again be the team to beat in Class AAAA. While the Patriots face the challenge of repeating as champions, they will have to also prove themselves against one of the best schools in the country to open the season. On Thursday, Aug. 29. Plant High School out of Tampa, Fla. will travel to Tyrone, Ga. to play in a nationally televised game. Plant has won four state championships since 2006.


The power, Plant…

Under head coach Robert Weiner, the 2006 Plant Panthers went 15-0, winning their first Florida State Football Championship by defeating the defending 2005 champions, Nease High School 25-21. In 2008, Plant won the state title under current Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s heroics. Headlining with Murray was All-American TE Orson Charles who also went to Georgia and currently suits up for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In 2009, Plant erupted in the playoffs and outscored its opponents 201-53, and defeated national powers Lakeland and Manatee to win another state title. Leading the team was QB Phillip Ely (Alabama) and RB James Wilder Jr. (Florida State). The championship ranked Plant in the top 10 teams in the nation at the end of the season.

The following season Plant entered week 1 as the No. 1 team in nation according to Maxpreps. Plant reached the 5A state championship, but the result was a loss to that season’s consensus national champion St. Thomas Aquinas 29-7.

In 2011, Plant won the Class 8A State Championship, and once again finished the season in the nation’s top 10 after beating out No. 3 ranked Miramar for the title. Starring for the 2013 Panthers is Jake Fruhmorgen, a four-star offensive tackle, who stands 6-foot-5, 278 pounds. The junior has offers from Alabama, Arizona, Auburn and Clemson. Ray Raulerson lines up at the other tackle position and is committed to Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 279 pound senior is the leader of the offensive line.

On the defense, Andrew Beck is a well-sized interior linebacker that is committed to Texas. Beck stands 6-foot-3, 227-pounds and his physical presence is matched with a great grasp on the game. Beck will be one of the main guys trying to slow down the Sandy Creek running game. Mazzi Wilkins is a lengthy cornerback with offers from Ball State, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. The three-star will be lining up on Sandy Creek’s all-state receiver Demarre Kitt.

There is tradition and stability in the Plant program and Weiner’s team has been recognized five years in a row for achieving the highest team GPA in their county.


The Creek…

Playing Plant is a big test, but if anyone has the firepower and experience to come out victorious against the out-of-towners it is the Patriots and Sandy Creek is currently ranked by as the No. 5 team in the country for 2013.

The Patriots managed to outscore their final six opponents 266-43 in 2012, and the only game within two touchdowns was a 31-20 victory over Burke County in the quarterfinals. Each week averaged out to a 35-point average margin of victory. Quarterback Cole Garvin threw for more than 2,700 yards as a junior, and his top target, Clemson-commit Demarre Kitt returns after hauling in 68 passes for 1,151 yards and 11 touchdowns. Garvin is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and committed to Marshall on June 14. Kitt is considered one of the most skilled receivers in the country and made his commitment to the Tigers on May 30.

“He [Demarre] can do a bit of everything,” said Walker about his 6-foot-1, 182-pound playmaker. “He runs great routes. He catches the ball really well, and once he catches it he is hard to bring down. That’s what I think makes him the best wideout in the state.”

There is talent to go around on the offensive side of the ball, but when a big play is needed, Kitt’s number is often dialed in.

Kitt’s partner in crime is 6-foot-3 wideout Justin Sumter, who gives Garvin another Division I receiving target to throw to. Sumter has been a reliable weapon and is receiving interest from Western Kentucky, Ball State, Appalachian State, and Georgia Tech. This will be a big game and season for the senior and if Kitt receives the double team, Sumter could make Plant and the opposition pay.

Complimenting the aerial assault is probably the best backfield tandem in the state. Eric Swinney is a 5-foot-10 back with offers from Ole Miss, Florida State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Arkansas and many more. Adjacent to Swinney is Delvin Weems who displays the same versatile athleticism out of the backfield as Swinney. These two guys will force a revolving onslaught of speed and downhill running right into the mouth of the talented Plant defense. In 2012 both guys rushed for over 1,200 yards and averaged just south of nine yards per carry.

“I hope both our guys [Swinney and Weems] set the pace [offensively] this season,” admitted Walker. “They are both dynamic ball carriers. They can both run through you, they can both run around you. Either one of them can do anything. We are just blessed to have two of them in the same group.”

This all-state duo’s most impressive feature is that they will only be juniors this upcoming season and the Sandy Creek backfield will be set for at least another year.

“The big thing is these guys kind of feed off of each other,” said Walker. “If one is having a good game, then the other one wants to step up and do the same thing. That’s big in games that may come down to the end.”

The third option in the backfield will be Maceo Brown, who will likely see more time at fullback this season. Brown is a very capable ball carrier and adds the dimension of a fullback with the ability to race out of the backfield and go the distance. Brown will be a major contributor to this star-studded offense and the three-star back and notorious hardworker helps drive the team.

“This will be the football game to watch this year. No matter who wins or loses,” tweeted Brown. “[This is a] Great test for both programs.”

Defensively, the Patriots allowed only nine points per game last season. Their 44.0 points of offense was matched by one of the best defensive units in the state. Replacing cornerback Shaquille Wiggins (UGA) and safety Corey Griffin (Georgia Tech) will be a challenge, but Walker has plenty of available options.

Ronnie Blackmon will only be a sophomore this year, but Blackmon already has picked up offers from Akron and Georgia Tech. Javon Jackson will play at safety and has Walker’s confidence heading into the season.

“Jackson has a chance to be a really really good player this year,” said Walker.

The “rock” of the secondary will be Brian Miller, who started every game last season as a sophomore and led the Patriots in interceptions.

In the trenches is 6-foot-1, 290-pound Chris Williams, who is described by Walker as “the best defensive lineman we’ve ever had.”

It will be left up to Williams to penetrate Plant’s experienced offensive line and open the gaps for the Sandy Creek linebackers to do work.

“Offenses have to account for him [Williams] and that just opens it up for our very good linebacking corps,” revealed Walker.

Williams committed to Ole Miss on Aug 1 and is poised for another breakout season.

It is difficult to pinpoint when Sandy Creek played its best football last year, because the season as a whole was so dominant. In the state championship game, the Patriots beat Ridgeland 45-10 with a running clock in the fourth quarter. During all of their multi-touchdown blowouts, underclassmen got valuable varsity experience and saw time even deep into the playoffs.

“The majority of these guys have that experience of playing under the lights on Friday night,” said Walker. “I think it’s huge and even if they were not playing, we have played in so many big games that just being there they kind of understand what it’s all about.”

The Patriots scrimmage Class AAAAA Starr’s Mill on Aug. 15 to get ready for another championship run. All-pro NFL receiver Calvin Johnson put Sandy Creek on the map 10 years ago while suiting up for the Patriots, and their string of state championships and recent success has grown the spotlight around the program. This game will be a defining moment in the school’s history, and in terms of measuring sticks, Plant is as good as it gets.

Garvin has only lost one game as a starter for Sandy Creek and entering his senior season gives him the chance to wrap up one of the better careers for a Georgia high school quarterback.



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