The 3 talking points: Columbia WildcatsBy JOSHUA CAMPBELL,
What they can hang their hat on
There are two big areas that stick out as major strengths for the Wildcats: their talented backfield tandem of Kentrel Bullock and Omarie Johnson and their deep defensive front seven. Since everyone in Marion County is already aware of the two-headed monster — let’s face it, offense sells — let’s talk about the big men on the defensive line and the linebackers.
It’s starts with the giant men in the middle, and they are men despite their age: Jaheim Oatis and Jeremiah Haynes.
Oatis, who holds offers from every big name school in the South, towers over everyone at 6-foot-6 and 345 pounds despite being only a sophomore.
Haynes, meanwhile, appears modest next to Oatis but is still a mammoth by high school standards at 6-foot-1 and 315 pounds. They both are far more athletic than the average player their size and can penetrate gaps as well as disrupt double teams.
Oatis will spend time as both a 5-technique defensive end and 3-technique defensive tackle while Haynes is a pure 1-technique defensive tackle.
They are joined by defensive ends Justin Lee (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) and Jordan Aaron (6-foot-2, 285 pounds) and swiss-army knife Greg Fortenberry (5-foot-10, 245 pounds). Lee is a pure pass rusher off the edge with the ability to convert speed to power, Aaron is a base end that is best against the run but can still get after the quarterback and Fortenberry can play every position along the line as well as linebacker and is a freakish athlete for his size.
At linebacker the Wildcats have three starting-level thumpers that will rotate to remain fresh in Antonio “AJ” Walker (5-foot-10, 205 pounds), Joey Croom (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) and KD Andrews (5-foot-6, 170 pounds). Croom and Andrews are returning starters, while Walker stepped up during the spring with Andrews battling a hamstring injury. Head coach Chip Bilderback said Omarie Johnson could rotate in as well.
Where they can improve
This one is simple. It’s the passing game. For all of the great things the Wildcats did in their first year under Bilderback, the passing attack was rudimentary. That’s not a knock on departed quarterback Ralpheal Luter — he wasn’t asked to do much as a passer unless it was absolutely necessary — but the Wildcats have a ton of receivers that can make plays more consistently to complement the running game.
Whether it’s Josh Brown or Javen Moses who ends up being the signal caller, all they really need to do with the strength of Columbia’s running game is complete a few passes throughout a game to keep defenses honest.
With Jamison Kelly, Daqwan Jones, Teshonne Franklin, Tryson Johnson and Sadarion Magee on the outside, the Wildcats could take a big leap forward through the air in 2019. Where the focus should be is completing short to intermediate passes, especially on play action, and letting the talented pass catchers do the rest after the catch.
Brown’s potential to join Bullock and Johnson as an explosive running threat to create a three-headed monster in the running game. Brown will go into the season battling Moses for the starting gig under center, and if he does get the job he will bring an element to Columbia it hasn’t had before.
If you haven’t had a chance to see the type of speed Brown possesses, imagine a high school version of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. He’s that fast and elusive. It was first noticed when he entered a blowout last season and the Wildcats gave him the ball on a jet sweep. He couldn’t find anywhere to run so he completely reversed field against a varsity defense and scampered for nearly 30 yards like he had done it a million times. Then in the spring game against Sumrall, he took off on the first play on a read option and made a cut so sudden he juked my camera. I knew then I was watching a special talent. Brown is a quick-twitch athlete with blazing speed and video game-like cutting ability. If he becomes as much of a threat with his legs as both Kentrel Bullock and Omarie Johnson, the Wildcats don’t have a ceiling with how far they could go.
Pictured Above: Columbia defensive tackle Jeremiah Haybes projects to be a force in the middle of the Wildcats' defense this season. | Photo by Joshua Campbell