When Byron McCall was hired in January to be the ninth head coach since the Cardinals last made the state playoffs in 1994, he stressed reinventing the culture of the program that hasn’t won more than three games in a season since its playoff run almost two decades ago.
McCall replaced Xarvia Smith, who resigned after three-straight two-win seasons.
McCall’s taking over a squad that started strong last season before dropping its final six games. In the process, players were turning in their uniforms and numbers dropped from 60 players to 28 in Osborne’s final regular season game.
To make matters worse, its enrollment numbers exceeded 1,800 students, which means the school is moved up Class AAAAAA in the fall. Against their wishes, the Cardinals were placed in Region 4AAAAAA to compete with the likes of McEachern, North Cobb, Hillgrove and Marietta.
All four teams have nearly rosters nearly three times the size of Osborne, and since the Cardinals are attempting to bring their numbers up, they opted to play a non-region schedule.
McCall, who was Osborne’s linebacker coach all three seasons under Smith, just wrapped up his first spring practice as head coach with just 26 players participating.
“We’re coaches,” McCall said. “We coach players. We coach whoever we have and we play with whoever we’re given and we put them in the best position.”
With all starters expecting to play both ways until the numbers grow, spring drills were spent teaching the fundamentals and identifying the players on the field. Many of the standout players are rising juniors.
One player the coach expected to be able to build around in the fall was quarterback Craig Robinson, who passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Unfortunately, Robinson relocated out-of-state during the offseason.
Ayo Asai is the frontrunner to replace Robinson and will also contribute at cornerback and free safety.
McCall said Asai has both speed and the ability to read the option offense. Jamari Miles is expecting to get expended playing time in the backfield after rushing for 132 yards and scoring twice last year.
Miles also had a strong spring at linebacker where he could get snaps at both the inside and outside positions. Kamaaj King is another potential starter at linebacker and could get work on the offensive line and at fullback.
Blake Nanje is a returning starter on the offensive line. Another lineman, Michael Towery, has made strides since missing last season with a foot injury.
“We had a chance to evaluate some guys,” McCall said. “We have identified guys who can play. We have a long way to go but we have guys that understand what we want to do. We want to identify who understands the game and who can hit. I’m a firm believer in ‘if they can’t hit, they can’t play’”