There will be plenty of talent on the field Friday night when LaGrange and Callaway square off in the season opener.
Leading up to the game, I’ll be taking a look at some of the players to keep an eye on when kickoff arrives at Callaway Stadium.
One of the players who will without a doubt be a huge part of his team’s game plan is Callaway senior Eddie Culpepper, one of the state’s most dynamic running backs.
Culpepper was remarkable in the playoffs a year ago, ripping off huge chunks of yardage seemingly each time he touched the ball, and he had 10 touchdowns in four playoff games.
In Friday’s preseason game against Greenville, Culpepper was unstoppable, with two touchdown runs in the first half, and each time he carried the ball he was either scoring, or getting a first down.
Culpepper is the complete package as a running back according to Callaway offensive coordinator Matt Napier.
“He is no doubt a special player,” Napier said. “He has a combination of speed, and physicality that you don’t see a lot.”
The Cavaliers won three playoff games a year ago, and Culpepper had a lot to do with that.
In the first two playoff games alone, Culpepper had seven touchdown runs.
Culpepper scored two more touchdowns in a quarterfinal win over St. Pius X, and then in the semifinals against Buford, he scored again to help his team take a 14-7 lead at the half.
Few players in the state made more of an impact than Culpepper did during the 2013 playoffs.
Napier said it was when the playoffs arrived that Culpepper really got a chance to shine.
“Last year, a lot of games we had were in hand by halftime, so Eddie was done at halftime of several games last year,” Napier said. “In the playoffs, he got to really play the entire game a lot, and got to show what kind of special talent he is. We’re looking for more of that out of him obviously. He’s a leader of our team, and he’s got a lot of tools that you want.”
Culpepper will also play a lot on defense from his linebacker position.
LaGrange fans can expect to see plenty of Wright on Friday night, and throughout the season.
Wright will be a valuable member of the defense from his linebacker position, and he’ll also often find himself with the ball in his hands as a running back.
“He’ll do a dual role,” LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said of Wright.
Wright will be wearing the number two jersey this season, and that number is set aside for a player expected to be a defensive leader on the team.
Past players who have worn the number two include Sam Olajubutu, Travis Hart, Qua Huzzie, Chauncey Smith and Tay Glover.
All of those players were linebackers.
While Wright’s contributions on defense will be critical to the team’s success, Burks said he’s counting on him to make a big impact on offense as well.
Burks said the only thing Wright lacks as an offensive player is game experience.
“Jeremiah, he can run all day. He’s like a machine,” Burks said. “He just hasn’t carried the ball enough as far as experience-wise, but he can do it.”
KeShun Freeman was one of the state’s best defensive players last season, and he led the Cavaliers in tackles - by a wide margin - from his linebacker position.
Losing Freeman hurts, but fortunately for the Cavaliers, they have a returning linebacker who is ready to take over the role as the leader of the defense according to defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard.
Zelaya enjoyed a terrific 2013 season and was one of the team’s top tacklers.
“He’s a three-year starter. He’s our coach on the field,” Hubbard said. “He’s been in the wars, he knows it, and he’s going to get guys lined up. He’s a guy that gets all the calls from the sidelines, gets the play out. He’s kind of our quarterback on defense.”
Zelaya will also see time on offense as a fullback.
Smith enjoyed a fantastic 2013-2014 season on the LaGrange basketball team, and when a new season rolls around, he’ll be one of the centerpieces of a team expected to do big things.
The junior may be ready to make a major impact in another sport, though.
Smith is a member of the LaGrange football team, and on Friday night, he will be a player to keep an eye on on both sides of the ball.
Smith is a defensive back, a wide receiver, a running back, and he even played some quarterback during LaGrange’s spring game.
While he probably won’t play quarterback this season, he’ll be on the field a lot.
“He is just a play-maker, and he is still figuring it out,” Burks said. “He makes plays, and that’s what the game is all about.”
As a running back, Burks said Smith teams up with fellow basketball standout Laperion Perry to give LaGrange a nice one-two punch.
Burks said they are “little scat-back types. That’s a tough tandem to stop.
OF NOTE: See Wednesday’s edition for more players to watch in the Callaway-LaGrange game.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 (ext. 232) or on Twitter @lagrangesports