Calhoun receivers a surprising threat

Calhoun receivers a surprising threat

December 8th, 2011 by Lindsey Young in Sports - Preps

Calhoun's Clay Johnson rushes the ball, scoring a touchdown during the first half of the Calhoun vs. Appling County playoff game at Calhoun High School.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

CALHOUN, Ga. - At first glance there doesn't appear to be anything special about the guys on the other end of Taylor Lamb's passes. There are no stars in the Calhoun receiving corps; none of the top four breaks 4.6 in the 40-yard dash and it's likely there are no Division I college futures among the group.

Looks can often be deceiving, and in this case they're downright deceitful. Just ask the Appling County coaching staff, which believed its superior athletes in the secondary could cover Calhoun's motley crew one on one in last week's Class AA semifinal. Down 30 points at the half following 330 passing yards, it was a decision the Pirates regretted.

Mighty Buford won't be so naive in Friday's championship game at the Georgia Dome. The Wolves will change coverages and packages and do everything they can to slow a high-powered Calhoun passing attack that has been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs. The Yellow Jackets have scored 39, 43, 45 and 51 points, the great majority coming prior to halftime.

"Our coaches draw up really good plays for us, and they know if we do what we're supposed to do we're going to find holes in the defense," said senior receiver Clay Johnson, one of four wideouts that have combined for over 200 receptions this year. "All we've got to do is catch the ball and get what we can get. I don't know that a defense can stop us if we execute."

Buford, however, has had success slowing the Calhoun spread in the past three championship game victories. The Wolves focused their coverage on star receivers Da'Rick Rogers in 2009 and J.T. Palmer last year and forced the Jackets to look elsewhere.

That, Calhoun coaches are counting on, is the major difference in this year's game. While the Jackets' receivers have been extremely productive, there isn't a clear No. 1 to take away. Three different receivers have led the team in yards in the four playoff games.

"We all have different strengths, which makes us that much better as a unit," said senior Chase Rierson, easily the biggest of the targets at 6-foot-4. "We have four great receivers, so they can't focus on one. Hopefully we can pick them apart throwing the ball. They have a really good defense, so there probably won't be many big plays."

With Palmer's graduation, the receiving corps was supposed to be a weak link in the offense this year, but the group of Rierson, Johnson, Ben Lamb and the lone junior of the group, Josh Barnes, has become the most productive set in school history. Though they may not be fast, each is at least 6-feet tall, they understand the offense and they all possess good hands.

"Our receivers understand where the holes are in the coverages," Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said. "They know we have a plan for Cover 2, Cover 1 and Cover 0. I think there is an advantage of not having a true No. 1 receiver. We have a couple that have caught over 60 balls and two more that have around 40. You can't double-team one, that's for sure, and we feel confident that we can throw to any of them."

Considering Buford's defense has been dominant against the run this year, including holding Elbert County all-star back Tyshon Dye to under 100 yards in the quarterfinals, the Jackets will likely have to use all its outside weapons. As a group they say they're ready for the challenge.

"They have to plan for all four or five of us and each of us has to get involved," Johnson said. "That's what we shoot for -- to make it kind of even across the board. We're really interchangeable, and I think we've got an answer for whatever they try to throw at us."