Tornado's JaVaughn Craig better than when he torched Cleveland

Tornado's JaVaughn Craig better than when he torched Cleveland

August 20th, 2014 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

McCallie's Javaughn Craig (3) evades Cleveland's Darius Pillow (33) during a prep football game at Cleveland High School in Cleveland on Aug. 22, 2013.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

In his quarterback debut, the substitute put on a show.

In the first night under fire, sophomore JaVaughn Craig exploded onto the high school football scene, throwing for 293 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 88 yards and two scores in McCallie's 55-35 victory over Cleveland last year.

Despite some personal and team lows during the year -- McCallie finished 4-8 -- the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Craig finished his first varsity season and his first as a quarterback with 1,398 yards and 10 touchdowns passing and 573 yards and 11 TDs rushing.

He's better, which fans have an opportunity to see Thursday night at the Best of Preps Kickoff Classic against Cleveland at Finley Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30.

"JaVaughn came in with a lot of natural ability and natural decision-making, but he was very raw," McCallie coach Ralph Potter recalled. "We were coaching him some but not a whole lot. We didn't want to put a whole lot on him mentally."

Craig was named the Best of Preps area player of the week following that game, and Potter cautioned him at the time that there would be ups and downs.

"That game, it all went by as blur. I saw that I had some potential and the potential the team had," Craig said. "There is always adversity. That's when real champions are found and teams come together and figure out ways to get through the hard times. We went through numerous ups and downs and sometimes we didn't immediately get back up, so it became a matter of how disciplined we are and how hard we work."

Craig and his teammates enjoyed a three-game win streak to open the 2013 season but then endured a seven-week string of setbacks. As the quarterback, Craig was, justified or not, near the center of criticism.

"As the season progressed and people began to game-plan for him, it became more difficult for JaVaughn because he didn't have the infrastructure of knowledge and fundamentals to succeed when people began trying to stop him," Potter said. "The pressure mounted on him, I think, and he lost some confidence in the middle of the season.

"The good news is that later in the season he really improved -- mechanics, knowledge of the game -- to the point where one of his best games was MBA the 10th game of the year."

Craig threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns in that final regular-season game.

He is no longer an athlete filling in to take snaps but a bona fide college quarterback prospect.

"Oh, yeah," Potter affirmed. "There's no question. His knowledge of what we're doing is much better. His option mechanics are much better, and he's worked really hard to develop better throwing mechanics. In every way he's a much better quarterback."

It is obvious by the interest already displayed by major college programs.

"A lot of people at the top levels -- the top levels -- really like him," Potter said. "Tennessee really likes him although they haven't offered [a scholarship]. He's a dual-threat quarterback right now and he needs to get a little faster, but he's throwing the ball really well for a dual-threat guy."

Although Craig clocked a mediocre 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the Tennessee camp, Potter believes he already is faster than that and believes also that recruiters know Craig has only begun to develop.

"He has a lot of potential, and most of the top-level colleges understand that he's a new guy at quarterback and his upside potential is going to be really high," the coach said. "He's on a lot of lists where people want to see how he develops."

Craig thinks he has learned to balance the highs and lows of a pressure position.

"That first game there was a lot going through my mind. I got thrown into it, and it was play by play," he said. "Now that I've done it for a year, I have more confidence in myself and in my team. I have put my faith in my training, my preparation and my team."

There is one other game Thursday night. Marion County hosts Grundy County at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.