Marietta at McEachern 10.jpg

Marietta’s quarterback Harrison Bailey (5) rips off a nice first down run against the McEachern defense.

Marietta’s 5-6 record in 2018 might be misleading. The Blue Devils endured injuries, player eligibility issues and a difficult schedule on its way to losing in the first round of the state playoffs to East Coweta.

This year’s spring practice ended with a scrimmage against Hillgrove. Marietta lost to the Hawks last season but defeated them in the scrimmage. The Blue Devils avoided any major injuries, which was even more important than the win.

“We got out of it healthy,” Marietta coach Richard Morgan said. “I thought it was a good way to end the spring, and it set a good tone for the summer.”

Marietta wants to be better prepared in case injuries hit the team hard again. That’s why one of Morgan’s main goals during spring practice was to develop the second team.

“We spent a lot of time trying to develop as much depth as we could and trying to get as many guys a chance to show what they can do as possible,” he said.

Marietta has a talented roster. Nine rising seniors are ranked among the top 100 class of 2020 prospects in Georgia, according to the 247Sports Composite. Rivals also has nine Marietta seniors in its Georgia Top 130, with Arik Gilbert ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 7 in the nation.

Gilbert led Cobb County with 1,210 receiving yards last year. His quarterback, Tennessee commit Harrison Bailey, also led the county with 2,809 passing yards and 29 touchdowns in an injury-shortened season.

Two other seniors, Rashad Torrence and Dawson Ellington, were declared ineligible last season by the GHSA. Their return to the field should help fortify the secondary.

“They were the happiest kids in the world to be out there at spring practice because they haven’t been able to play in a year,” Morgan said. “So they are very much looking forward to their senior season.”

Last season’s struggles were made worse by a tough schedule. The Blue Devils played in-state heavyweights Rome and Grayson during its non-region schedule. The Region 3AAAAAA schedule also wasn’t easy, but Marietta only lost one game during region play.

The Blue Devils’ non-region schedule was highlighted by two opponents from outside the state. They traveled to Washington, D.C., to play St. John’s and faced Our Lady of Good Counsel, who traveled from Olney, Maryland, at home. Marietta lost both games, but Morgan doubled down on the aggressive scheduling strategy. This season, the Blue Devils will play St. Joseph’s Prep (Pennsylvania) and Edgewater (Florida), both at home.

Morgan said he does not regret making Marietta’s competition even tougher than it otherwise should be.

“It’s something we’ve started to do as a program to expose the kids to more things and put them in a situation where they’re challenged and see how they respond,” Morgan said. “It helps us get ready for region play … We’re not afraid to play a tough schedule.”

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