The caliber of athletes that the Rome High football team will see graduate next week and move on to the next stage in life might give some programs a cause for concern.
But as has been on display throughout this spring on the Wolves’ practice field, it’s about reloading rather than rebuilding.
Rome head coach John Reid said a big part of that reload has been the rising seniors stepping into leadership roles and maintaining the standard of winning that has led to 41 victories and two state titles over the last three seasons.
“We’ve got a different group of seniors trying to lead by example, and that’s the best way to do it,” Reid said after Thursday’s practice. “Knox Kadum and some of those brand names are gone, but these guys are trying to pick up from that and from where they left off.”
Several of the players that were key pieces of the Wolves’ tremendous run that also included a 40-game win streak already have their futures set playing for major college programs. Four-year starting quarterback Kadum is headed to Virginia Tech, running back Jamious Griffin to Georgia Tech, and wide receiver Xavier Roberts-Donaldson to Florida Atlantic.
In their place have stepped up a host of contributors ready to fill in the gaps, and Reid says he’s been encouraged with their progress this May.
“I think we’ve improved and found some depth, which is important for us,” Reid said. “Our motto this year is ‘Who Dares, Wins’ and so part of that is who dares to practice the hardest, practice the fastest. That’s been good, and the kids who were freshmen last year have picked up the system pretty well. So, after nine practices, we’re pretty happy with that.”
After losing to Warner Robins in the Class 5A state semifinals last season, the Wolves have come out and attacked the spring practice period, much to the liking of Reid and his staff.
“We’re pretty happy with where we’re at as far as spring,” Reid said. “We’re glad we had the opportunity to have spring. It’s so important for us because it gives us a chance to evaluate. Some kids have really stepped up, they’re totally different than they were last year.”
An area where Reid is expecting some players to step up is in the rushing attack. Griffin wrapped up his career at Rome as the 2018 Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year and tabbed as four-star running back. However, Reid says he does like the athleticism, versatility, and depth waiting in the wings.
“We’ve got some running backs that are going to get a chance to run the ball this year, and then some of those guys are also going to play some defensive back,” Reid said. “Always in our meetings we talk about getting the best athletes on the field, and we’ve got some kids that we’re excited about. Some of them are just going to be 2’s or 3’s, but they have gotten so much better.”
Rome got its first road test with the new group Friday night at North Paulding in a spring game to wrap up the early practice period.
While the defense was tested often against the Class 7A school during the varsity portion of the scrimmage, Rome's offense found success on both the ground and in the air.
Running backs Nick Burge, Tra Lawrence and Ahijah Blackwell all got solid yardage and reached the end zone multiple times. Quarterback Caleb Ellard was able to get out of the pocket well and connect with wideouts Adam Peterson and Jay Wise a few times.
The Wolves will once again open the regular season by hosting Marietta at Barron Stadium as part of the Corky Kell Classic. The game is set for Aug. 22.