HCHS spring football game meets expectations of coaching staff

Habersham Central High School wide receiver Jay Feltus (12) catches a pass for a touchdown in a spring scrimmage against Hart County High School on May 17 at Raider Stadium in Mt. Airy. (Zack Myers/NowHabersham.com)

Friday night’s spring game for Habersham Central High School’s football program was no more than theater for the fans that showed up to support. The culmination of three weeks of hard work and dedication for the 120 or so upcoming 9th-12th graders in the middle of may, akin to an early dress rehearsal in the world of actual theater.

The plays had been set, practiced and ran through again and again. The lights were on at Raider Stadium Friday against Hart County High School, but the pressure to perform wasn’t near as palpable as it will be in the fall.

For Raiders Head Coach Benji Harrison, the night went about as expected. He was able to see his team play, take the temperature of its toughness, and assess where he, the staff, and the players are as they collectively head into a summer schedule of padded camps and 7-on-7s.

“It kind of went the way I thought it would,” Harrison said. “The things we were pretty good at, I thought we’d be pretty good at. The things that we need to improve on, we knew tonight would be a continuation of that improving.”

The Raiders threw the ball well on the night with the varsity players on the field. Incumbent starting quarterback DJ Pass, an upcoming senior, found Jay Feltus for a long touchdown pass. Upcoming junior quarterback Paris Wilbanks found Zeke Whittington all alone and in stride for a long touchdown pass as well.

“We threw the ball pretty well and I thought we would,” Harrison said. “If you’re going to throw it well, you have to have pass protection, so that was pretty good.”

The biggest question mark as the team rolled into the exhibition, and as the season comes into view later this season, is the offensive line. The Raiders lost all five starters from the 2023 season to graduation, so there are totally new faces with very limited experience in the trenches.

While the pass protection looked good, several drives were stymied due to a lack of a consistent run game despite having a pair of running backs who gained a lot of experience last fall.

“At offensive line, we’ve just got to continue to grow, be more physical, be more sure of what we’re doing and come off the ball at 100 miles per hour,” Harrison said. “We’ve got good size up there, so size isn’t going to be a factor. We ought to get movement. As those guys come together and we fit the pieces the way we think they need to be fit, I think that group will grow and be pretty good.”

The Raiders did bust a big run thanks to the field vision of upcoming junior Donovan Warren. Warren took a handoff and bounced the ball out to his right. A great block from a wide receiver helped him get wide and Warren’s speed had him off to the races.

Defensively, Harrison said, while the team does have to get better at tackling and get downhill more to meet the point of attack at the line of scrimmage, he thought his team performed well against the passing game of Hart County. The Raiders were able to force a few turnovers in the game, which included an interception by Whittington.

“We had several new guys on the back end of our defense and I thought we were good against the pass,” Harrison said. “You want to create turnovers and, as a mindset, if you start creating them in the spring, it’s good.”

Overall, the impression for the coaches was largely positive. There’s still plenty of room to grow, but the spot hit on the measuring stick is right where the expectation was set.

“I thought we executed some things really well tonight, but there’s some things we’ve got to get a lot better at. But (we) knew that. We knew after the spring game tonight there were going to be a lot of things we needed to improve at,” Harrison said. “But you want to leave a good taste in the kids’ mouths after the game tonight. I think they have that. I think they competed, they had fun. They see the opportunity we have in front of us if we keep getting better.

“I think we got everything out of these three weeks of practice that we needed to.”

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