The New Knights
By: Jeff Doke
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
It’s a Friday afternoon at Frederica Academy, and Coach Brandon Derrick is happy to have made it through the day without any injuries.
Granted, this was spring field day at the school, not spring football practice, but he’ll take the victories where he can get them.
“Any day without injuries is a good day around here,” says the Englewood, Tennessee native, preparing for his 10th season leading the Frederica Knights.
The injury report was not his friend last season. Multiple week absences from two key players on an already short roster meant the 2021 Knights would have to rely on a late-season surge to salvage a .500 record for the year and eke into the playoffs.
It was a difficult task for a team that started with a scant 24 players on the roster, but relief is on the way for the 2022 Knights.
That relief comes in two forms; an influx of young talent from a rising freshman class that led the middle school Knights to an undefeated season last year, and a rising senior quarterback transferring in from Brunswick High.
After helping helm the Brunswick High Pirates to an 11-1 record in 2021, Class of 2023 Quarterback Sutton Ellis will be suiting up for his final campaign in the forest green and gunmetal grey of Frederica Academy,
“After the playoff loss to Dacula, his dad reached out to me,” recalls Coach Derrick. “He told me some things were said and Sutton wants to come over here. I told him if he wants to transfer, he’ll be like everyone else. He’ll have to compete.”
Ellis is used to competition. Splitting time under center last season, he managed to complete 42 of 83 attempts for 689 yards and 5 touchdowns during the Pirates’ run to the state playoffs. His first few months on campus at Frederica would lead you to believe those numbers can go nowhere but up this season.
“After his dad reached out to me, they came over to campus and hung out for a day,” elaborates Coach Derrick. “Sutton loved it. He thought this was a good place & a good setup and jumped right in. He’s playing baseball right now, starting at catcher.”
Since most of his eventual football teammates are two- and three sport athletes, there won’t be a true spring practice, save for film room, weight training, and playbook work.
“(Sutton)’s got the playbook and is studying it. He and Grant are actually working on it together right now.”
The “Grant” that Coach Derrick mentions is rising freshman QB Grant Moore – the leader of the previously mentioned undefeated middle school Frederica team from last season and the “competition” Coach Derrick spoke of in that first phone call with Sutton’s dad.
“We’ve got an 8th Grader coming up named Grant Moore that’s going to be pretty good,” says Derrick. “(He and Sutton) going to have to battle, it’ll be a competition.
Sutton is more of a traditional-style quarterback guy, and Grant is a pure athlete. We’ll be able to get him on the field at other positions, but I’m pretty sure they’ll both see action under center at some point.”
Joining the freshman QB will be several of his middle school teammates, not just adding depth to a roster that desperately needed it, but many starting as well.
“We’ll be starting or playing 8-10 freshmen, on the lines mostly. As crazy as that sounds, they’re gonna be some pretty good freshmen. We’re going to have 30-40 kids all total this year. The cupboard isn’t bare for the first time in a long time.”
Possibly the biggest benefactor of the influx of talent will be junior phenom running back Jordan “The River” Triplett.
“Jordan has been playing a lot of basketball, now baseball,” reports Coach Derrick. ”He’s a great three sport athlete, but his main focus is always football. He’s up to 195 lbs and is working on his speed & technique at a clinic down in Jacksonville. Hopefully Sutton & Grant will be able to get some throws to the outside, spread the field a little bit, and open up the middle for Jordan. We’re trying to add in some new wrinkles to get (Jordan) the ball in space.”
If I’ve learned anything in the last ten years, it’s that when Brandon Derrick starts talking about adding wrinkles to the playbook, there’s going to be some fun-to-watch football on the way. In his own tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating words, “we’ve got a chance to make some noise as long as I don’t do anything stupid.”