Before he moves on to Southern Cal, offensive lineman Chuma Edoga will continue to open up holes for his Oregon-bound teammate, Taj Griffin.
Then there’s lineman Chandler Jones and highly touted wide receiver T.J. Rahming — each of whom will likely have their pick of major colleges to choose from — and rising sophomore quarterback Bailey Hockman is being groomed to take over for Ty Clemons after leading the Indians to three playoffs wins as a backup when Clemons was injured.
McEachern may appear to be set on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is a different story.
While there is plenty of depth and talent coming up, the Indians’ defensive stalwarts may be hard to replace.
Gone are defensive ends Henry Famurewa and McKenzie Billingslea, who combined for 187 tackles and 30 sacks last fall. So, too, are linebackers Glenn Frazier and Christian Wade, who combined for 202 stops, and defensive back Rahmoi Parsons and his county-leading six interceptions.
“We lost a lot of defensive guys,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “That’s a big part of what we’re trying to evaluate. We had several guys who stepped, and we have a clearer picture of who our varsity football players are. That was our major goal (at spring practice).”
But at least the Indians are returning their leading tackler, rising junior Julian Rochester, to the front line. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Rochester finished the year with 114 tackles and 10 sacks.
Hockman said defensive end Fitz Wattley is coming off a solid two weeks of spring practice, though he is having to adjust to a new position after playing linebacker in 2013. Rising seniors Josh Ohanu and Chris Hernandez also had productive spring practices as potential replacements for Famurewa and Billingslea. Senior Tevon Johnson also saw time on the defensive front, but he will likely play tackle.
“With those guys stepping up, we’ve feel like we’ve built some depth,” Hockman said. “We will continue working with the guys in the summer.”
Rising senior linebacker Nick Demassimo started the final five games last season, and Hockman said he’s projected to be the “quarterback” of the defense. Hockman also singled out Courtney Mills, a rising junior, as having the makings to be a future college player, and Cameron McGee had an impressive spring after recovering from a foot injury last season.
Hockman was complimentary of the skills of Andrew Heyward, who may be switching from receiver to cornerback to help fill the void left by Parsons. Tyler Woodly showed he had the top to be McEachern’s starting cornerback, and Bryan Okeh looked strong at safety.
“We have other backups who can step up, too,” Hockman said. “The summer’s here so there is still time to develop these guys.”
Hockman is expecting his son, Bailey, to join Griffin, Edoga and Rahming as the catalysts of McEachern’s offense this season.
Griffin ran for 996 yards and eight touchdowns last season, the younger Hockman had 753 passing yards and eight touchdowns primarily as a second-stringer and Rahming was the county’s second-leading receiver with 927 yards and 11 touchdowns.
McEachern will also have four non-region games to find its niche, beginning with a game against North Gwinnett in the relocated Corky Kell Classic at Walter Cantrell Stadium.
From there comes a trip to perennial powerhouse Buford, a home game with Peachtree Ridge and then a tip south to Lovejoy.
As a whole, the Indians’ first four opponents went a combined 46-8 last fall.
“We have big-time players and a big-time schedule,” Kyle Hockman said. “We’re going work hard, build our depth and expect to win all four of them. At the same time, we will play a lot of folks.”