It’s the stuff of Friday Night Lights dreams. Down five points, seconds left, game on the line, 40 yards from the end zone, and one play to make it happen. In DeKalb, the safest hands in that situation belong to quarterback Jonathan McCrary, who is expected to eclipse the county’s all-time career-passing record this season–and maybe take Cedar Grove into another postseason odyssey along the way.
The Saints are regarded by some as one of the most exciting local teams, and led by their passer who has verbally committed to Vanderbilt University, are a throwback to times when the football traveled by air as much as by ground.
“It’s not something you see a lot of, but in Texas you see a lot more of it than in Georgia,” said Cedar Grove coach Ray Bonner, a longtime figure on DeKalb’s football scene. “When I was at Columbia [High School in 1982], we had a passing game.”
Taking the retro approach has helped pull Cedar Grove from mediocre records and occasional playoff appearances. That changed with the introduction of McCrary, along with a coaching philosophy that supplemented his talent. Now the Saints have justified optimism.
Cedar Grove finished last year with a 5-1 record in Region 5B-AAA, earning a playoff spot and making a narrow first-round exit at the hands of Troup County. McCrary was prolific in 2011, passing for 2,643 yards, 165 completions, with a 68.5 completion percentage–a DeKalb County single-season record. He’s currently 2,701 shy of breaking the current county record of 8,098 career-passing yards.
“Jonathan is just a natural-born leader to me. If his work ethic and how he approaches the game and school carry over, we’ll be all right,” Bonner said. “Our goal every year is to win the state championship and we feel like we have the young men to do it. We just need to not get caught up in the hype and do our job.”
An indication of how serious Cedar Grove is in achieving that goal will be evident from opening night, when the Saints face current state champ Tucker in a non-region encounter.
“It gives us a good look at where we’re at,” said Bonner. “We prepare the same way for whoever we play.”
Another determinant of Cedar Grove’s–and McCrary’s–success will be how the program overcomes losing 10 starters from last year’s offensive line to graduation. While it’s a frustration for Bonner, he believes the caliber of talent coming through the ranks will keep its mixed offense ticking.
“We have the kids that have been in the program and waited their turn. Hopefully they can fit in with those guys and keep what we have going,” he said.
If McCrary is adequately protected, the Saints’ will be looking to keep defenses second-guessing their game plan. “If you go back and look at last season’s stats, it’s a balanced offense–we throw the ball to run,” Bonner said. “Jonathan’s the best I’ve coached and one of the best I’ve been around [within college circles].”