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Packers have plenty of holes to fill as spring practice opens

Apr. 27—MOULTRIE — The Colquitt County football program has won 25 games the past two seasons, 33 over the last three.

But the vast majority of the the players who contributed to that success have graduated, including 17 of the 22 starters on the 2023 team that went 12-1.

Packers coach Sean Calhoun, a two-time Region 1-7A Coach of the Year, and his staff have spent the last four months working to get the new generation of Packers ready for the rigors of spring practice, summer workouts and the 2024 campaign.

On Monday, the Packers will begin what will be an especially crucial 10 days of spring practice.

Calhoun does not downplay the obvious.

"There are a lot of question marks at a lot of positions," he said on Friday. "We're having to replace a lot of players.

"And now we'll finally get to see how all the work we've done since January translates to the field."

The varsity Packers will practice at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday each of the next two weeks.

Spring practice will culminate with a quasi-game against undefeated defending Class 5A state champion Coffee High at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14.

The slightly remodeled varsity coaching staff has already helped out with the eight days of practice for the rising seventh- and eighth-grade teams.

And after school on days the varsity practices in the morning, the varsity coaches will help with the rising ninth-graders' spring sessions.

"This way, the varsity staff gets to see everyone," Calhoun said.

There could be as many as five rising freshmen who have a chance to contribute to the varsity this fall, Calhoun said.

Many eyes will be on the Packers quarterback situation, which could be resolved by one of those rising ninth-graders.

The position was held the last three seasons by Neko Fann, the most productive quarterback in Packers history.

The reigning Region 1-7A Offensive Player of the Year, now competing at Mercer University, threw for 7,823 yards and 97 touchdowns in his career.

Under his direction, the Packers averaged 435.9 yards of offense a game last season.

Those numbers, and his leadership, will be nearly impossible to replace this fall.

Five quarterbacks are on the roster, with rising junior A'Zhiyan Alridge and rising freshman Cohen Lawson expected to battle for the starting position.

Alridge, a 94.6 grade point average student who also performed for the Packers basketball team last season, played sparingly and attempted just five passes last fall behind Fann.

Lawson was the offensive leader of an eighth-grade group that suffered just one loss over the last three seasons.

Three rising sophomores — Arbashaun Curry, Jimmy Hall and Walker Lanier — also will get snaps in the lead-up to the Aug. 16 season-opener against West High of Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Hawg Pen.

"I like this group," Calhoun said of his aspiring quarterbacks.

Whoever wins the starting job will be throwing to an equally inexperienced group of receivers.

Underclassmen wide receivers caught just four passes last season.

Ny Carr, who grabbed 169 passes, including 44 for touchdowns, in his career, is already practicing at the University of Miami.

Tight end Landen Thomas, who grabbed 118 passes as a Packer, is in Tallahassee batting for playing time at Florida State.

Unsung Zay Williams, who caught 47 passes, including nine for scores as a senior, has signed to play at Iowa Western Community College.

Running back Day'Shawn Brown, who received his first college offer recently, is expected to return to the backfield after rushing for 976 yards last year.

The offensive line lost four starters, including four-year starter Turk Daniels, who has pledged to Cason Newman. The only one back is college prospect Kahlil Collins.

The defense also was hit hard by graduation, losing linebackers Tyshon Reed Jr. to Duke and Nick Pace to Jacksonville State.

Calhoun said the strength of the team could be the defensive line, which welcomes back starters Amari Wilson and Jartavius Flounoy.

Young players Kamdon Gay, Chris King and Nyneson Jeudy also have a chance to be contributors.

Jah'Boris Fuller is the only starting member of the secondary who will return.

Fuller also is expected to help on special teams, which will be led by three-year starting kicker Brett Fitzgerald.

Brother of Florida State kicker Ryan Fitzgerald, Brett has already broken his older brother's school career extra points record and, with 35 field goals, has a chance to surpass Ryan's record of 51 of those as well.

Calhoun said that Wilson, Flounoy, Collins and Fitzgerald also have received college offers.

"We have to get as much work on technique and fundamentals and on 11-on-11 as we can," Calhoun said. "I like where we are right now. We just have to stay healthy, try to find out who our starters are and create depth."

Calhoun said because so many starters have graduated, there will be plenty of competition for starting positions and that has led to more-than-average enthusiasm among the players.

"The kids are ready to get on the field," he said. "There are some wide-open positions so some of those JV and backup players will be getting a chance to be a starter."

The Packers will play their preseason scrimmage on Friday, Aug. 2, against Bainbridge, also on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium.