Prediction: Calera embarks on first season with Holder with exciting young talent

Published 10:33 am Friday, August 11, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

CALERA – For the second time in three seasons, Calera is preparing for the season with a new head coach who was appointed during the summer.

This time around, it is Jerad Holder stepping into the head coaching position after the last man to do so, Jason Hamlin, left the school.

Since Holder was appointed with less than two weeks before the start of fall camp and less than a month before Calera’s first game against Spain Park, he will have a lot of work to do to make sure the Eagles are ready to go when the season starts.

Fortunately for Calera, Hamlin laid a strong foundation for Holder to continue building off of, and the players have had a strong summer both on the field and in the weight room. The players have also said that Holder has brought a morale boost to the locker room, and overall, the team is bought in and ready to run onto the field with him this season.

Calera has a lot of fresh faces mixed in with their returning players, but many players on the team share a common trait: they are athletic and fast. That will continue to be Calera’s identity even as they transition with a new face in charge.

Holder will hope to repeat the feat that Hamlin accomplished in 2021 when he took the Eagles to the playoffs with a 7-4 record after three straight seasons with one head-to-head win with just two months of preparation.

To do that, they need to answer the question of who their starting quarterback will be. Holder had not named a starter as of media day on Monday, July 31, but junior AJ Johnson has had the momentum all summer long and will likely get the nod.

He is a very smart quarterback with a great arm, and he has worked on his deep throws this summer, which has been a weakness in the past when he had a habit of forcing plays. Johnson is a more complete quarterback than he was a year ago and should be a great leader for the Eagles.

Joining him behind the line will be main running back Hayden Callahan, who has developed well since coming on the scene. The rest of Calera’s running back room is very versatile thanks to Quatez Williams’ track star speed and Camarien Yow’s power that reminded Hamlin of Danny Brundage.

Having a diverse group of running backs should only help whoever is calling plays for Calera, whether that is Holder, Johnson or someone else, as it will open up the playbook for a lot of different possibilities.

While Calera doesn’t have Braylyn Farrington at receiver anymore, his and Kobe Prentice’s influence is all over the receiving corps. KD Young and Dalton Ash both bring experience from last season, and Holder believes that overall, this is the most experienced position group on the team.

Holder’s goal is for Calera to have big play potential in the receivers group to demoralize the opposing defense, and Young and Ash certainly have that, as well as Elijah Bates, who is poised for a breakout year even as an underclassmen.

Of course, talented skill players would mean nothing without a great offensive line, and the Eagles should have a solid foundation up front with Jake McDonnell, Stuart Goldman, Cade Mitchell, Jaquan Barron and Will Harris. All got meaningful game action last season and will likely take a step to be even better this year.

On the opposite side, Calera will have an entirely new front seven, but Holder and Hamlin are both optimistic for this group’s potential. The linemen have stepped up as leaders, and Kharlis Cooper, Solomon Moore, Christian Dexter and Deshun Seay have shown that every day during practice.

The linebackers make up the other part of that front seven, and that position group has had multiple surprises during the summer. None have been bigger than Mac Graham, who will be a double letterman this year as he will play baseball again this spring, and TJ Hernandez, who will also start at kicker. Josh Jones will also be a factor, along with inside backers D’Ivan Brown, Nick Holland and Taylor Alford.

Calera’s secondary will be another experienced and quick position group this year. The safety group will be exciting with team leader Ayden Slaten, LeShond Boone returning after ACL surgery and baseball convert Josh Rhoads.

The cornerback room is a similar situation with Ahmari Collins leading the position group as well as the defense with Kamari Stokes, Troy Burks and basketball player Carlos Whisenhunt rounding out the group.

Overall, Calera has an exciting young team that may have some struggles early on as they mesh together, but has solid potential going into the season.

Prediction: 4-6. A few weeks ago, I had Calera down as one of the potential surprise teams in the area this year. However, that was before Hamlin stepped down as head coach with just two weeks before fall practices started. Hamlin was a great head coach who knew how to get the most out of his roster and established an identity and culture for Calera. Holder is as good of a choice for this role as anybody at this time of the year because of his success with Calera’s offense in the last couple of seasons. However, given the difficulties any new head coach faces preparing for their first year at a program, especially one given so little time to prepare, I can’t stand here and predict that Calera is going to have a winning season this year. However, Calera fans have been down this road before. Eagles fans only need to look back a couple of years ago to see what Hamlin was able to do on short notice in 2021. That was also partly because of the talent that has come through Calera over the last few years. One of the reasons I originally believed Calera was a surprise team was because of that talent, speed and athleticism that they’ve shown over the last few years and still have now. However, the talent that they have now is very raw, and likely needs strong coaching to develop, which Calera has less of now with Hamlin gone. But, crazier things have happened in Calera, and I will be happy to be proven wrong by Calera’s underdog spirit if that is the case.