Spring Game Offers Glimpse into Griffins’ Football Future

Markell Whittaker scrambles out of the pocket as Chris Boyd (15) fights off a block and comes after his regular season teammate. Meanwhile, offensive linemen Darius Feaster (62) and Malik Mickle (58) shore up the middle. (Photo/DeAnna Robinson)

WINNSBORO – The Fairfield Central Griffins football team officially launched the defense of their Upper State title Friday with the annual spring game. Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis and his staff are looking to replace the electrifying skills of DeAndre Belton at quarterback. Belton, who graduates next week, helped lead the Griffins to back-to-back state title games and ran the read-option like a finely tuned high-performance German sports car. The Griffins have two candidates vying for the top position at the offensive helm in rising senior Markell Whittaker and rising sophomore Stanley McManus. Both took a few snaps under the bright lights in 2013 and both had some excellent looks in Friday’s controlled environment.

Although the Black Team (defense) out-scored the White (offense) 22-7 Friday, Davis said the main objective was to get through spring workouts with the same number of bodies with which you began. In other words, no injuries. In spite of what the final score indicated, Davis said he saw some encouraging things out of his offense. The biggest improvements, he said, will come over the summer.

In addition to Belton, the Griffins will have to replace nearly their entire receiving corps, as well as powerful running back Larry G. Bell, who chalked up 1,014 yards and 16 touchdowns. Bell’s 2013 counterpart, Joseph “Mighty Joe” Young, returns to the Griffin offense for the fall of 2014. Young, a rising senior, rushed for 755 yards last season – 6.68 yards per carry – while crossing the opposing goal line 15 times.

Byron Sampson and Shadarius Hopkins also return, and while most of their time in 2013 was spent in the defensive backfield, in 2014 it is likely they will line up as wide-outs as well. In Friday’s spring game, both had strong performances, with Hopkins picking off a pair of passes from the White Team.

The Griffin defense appears as sound as ever, in spite of losing sacks leader Khalil Keitt (18.5 sacks, 57 total tackles), Chanti Jones (11 sacks, 40 total tackles) and Larry J. Bell (91 total tackles). Chris Boyd, a rising senior, returns as a linebacker and had an impressive spring game.

The Griffins have set the bar high and Davis said his young crew comes in knowing exactly what the objectives are – win the region, make the playoffs, return to the title game. With such an inexperienced offense coming into 2014, the bar of success appears even higher than before. Between now and when those light go up on that first Friday night in August, the Griffins have one long hot summer in which to put all their pieces in place.

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