Photos Andy Calvert

When talking about the upcoming 2023 season and the preparations the Purple Hurricanes have made for it, Cartersville coach Connor Foster brings up a word that he thinks is key for the program – continuity. 

While the Hurricanes have to replace several starters from a squad that reached the Class 5A State Semifinals, Foster talks about how important it has been to keep mostly the same coaching staff together. 

“I think we’ve had a great offseason. All of our coaches are back from last year and we added one more coach. I’m just really excited about having the continuity with the staff,” Foster says. “We did lose quite a lot from last year’s team, but we have a lot of guys who have played in games over the last few years. It’s a fun group with a lot of great chemistry.” 

One of the key factors in helping the Hurricanes have a better chance to reload with players who have game experience is that the team has regularly made deep runs into the playoffs and had some games with lopsided scores allowing other players a chance to see the field and get several extra weeks of practice. 

“It’s really huge for us. A couple of years ago we took a different approach. We play so many more kids than we ever have and are more intentional that we are creating depth for the future by playing them,” Foster says. “That’s a huge advantage, especially with our young guys. We try to keep as many freshman and junior varsity players out as we can. It’s almost like they get an entire fourth or fifth year and it makes a huge difference for confidence and from a learning standpoint. It’s also big just to see what the playoff atmosphere is like just getting in a play or two against schools like Warner Robbins.” 

KHRISTIAN LANDO

The Hurricanes also eschew something that most other area teams do a lot in the summer months, and that is visiting OTA camps and seven-on-seven competitions. 

“We’re probably the exception to all that stuff. We go to a couple of seven-on-sevens. We throw with a couple of local schools. We don’t go to any OTAs or padded camps. We don’t play a spring game. We try to take the offseason and really focus on ourselves,” Foster says. “I think at times it’s easy to get caught up in an opponent at OTA or a seven-on-seven camp, but I feel like we need to work on ourselves. It also creates some eagerness to get the pads on and get after somebody.” 

When talking about this year’s version of the Hurricanes, Foster begins with the offensive line and senior Malachi Toliver, a UGA commitment. 

“He’s a two-year starter and just a tremendous talent and a great worker. I think our whole offensive line is going to be good because we have four starters coming back,” he says. “Langston Hogg is another one to watch out for on the line. We’re going to be big up front. Offensively, we may be playing a slightly different brand of football than we have in the past.” 

Foster also mentions that the squad has good depth at running back with several players ready to take handoffs and deliver yards this season. 

“Khristian Lando, Luke McBride, and Richard Houston are going to get the ball, and they are exciting players for us. Jamauri Brice at wide receiver is only a junior, but he’s talented and has a lot of room to grow,” Foster says. 

Foster points out that Nate Russell will be taking over the quarterback position after taking snaps in 19 of the Hurricanes’ 40 quarters last season and throwing for more than 500 yards. 

He also says that most of the names he’s mentioned on offense will be big contributors on defense as well, and he says the Hurricanes have a super strong linebacking group. 

“Our linebackers with Bradfield, McBride, Kelson Mitchell, and others have a chance to be good, and we are really excited about defensive back Xavier Parker. I think he has a chance to have a big year for us,” Foster says. 

Along with that, Foster adds that he knows there are going to be some names he hasn’t mentioned and fans may not be familiar with that will step up as the season progresses. 

LYDIA CHILDERS

“There are going to be some other players who have big years for us. I think that’s one of my favorite things about each season because we don’t know who these guys are that are going to surprise us,” Foster says.  

Cartersville will again have its work cut out for it in a tough region that saw all four playoff teams win first-round playoff games last season.  

“Calhoun has a lot coming back after winning region last year. Dalton is always dangerous, Cass has one of the best teams it’s had in years and Hiram brings back 18 starters, so there are no easy games in this region,” Foster says. 

As far as what it’s going to take to possibly chase the region title and make another deep run into the playoffs, Foster lays that on the coaches and the players. 

“I think it’s all about us getting better every week and every day and focusing on being the best version of ourselves. We need to be intentional and specific about ways we can improve,” Foster says. “One of the words that has been big for us is refocus. I think elite teams are able to refocus. Can you get a big win one week and play even better football the next week and if you lose, can you refocus and get a big win the next week? That’s really important for us this year.” 

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An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.