McCallie's JaVaughn Craig Still Improving At Quarterback

Blue Tornado Junior Getting A Lot Of Interest On Gridiron

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 - by John Hunt

(This is the 14th in a series of preseason stories on new high school football coaches, or veteran coaches at a different school, and top players in the Chattanooga area)

JaVaughn Craig was the starting quarterback for McCallie all season a year ago, but it wasn’t originally planned like that.

Craig was a wide receiver when he resumed his football career as a freshman, but he used to field punts and field goals during practice and McCallie coach Ralph Potter observed that the slender young man had a better than average passing arm.

When the Blue Tornado starting quarterback got hurt during last year’s preseason workouts, Potter didn’t hesitate to give his former receiver a chance.

It turned out to be a pretty good decision as the young man put up some impressive numbers, which included two passing touchdowns and two more rushing in a 55-35 victory over Cleveland in the season opener.

He went on to complete 112 of 191 attempts for 1,431 yards and a dozen touchdowns.  He also rushed for 678 yards on 132 carries and another 13 TDs, so he was probably McCallie’s most productive offensive player.

Well, he’s back for his junior year.  He’s smarter and quicker and still just as athletic.  He hopes that last year will serve as a springboard for greater things this fall.

“Coach Potter saw that I could throw from those days at practice when I caught all of those kicks, but he made me the starter for the first game against Cleveland when our starter hurt his shoulder.  That turned out to be one of the best games of the year for me,” the 6-2, 178-pound junior said as he recalled that game where McCallie shocked the Blue Raiders, 55-35.

“That was a stepping stone toward me learning a new position, but they found out what I was capable of doing.  Our season didn’t turn out like we wanted as we played really good teams every week and we lost several games just on mental mistakes,” he continued.

What about 2014 and what’s the outlook for the current season?

“I try to look at how far I’ve grown.  My teammates look up to me as a leader and I try to do what I need to do for them to help us be successful.  We’re coming together and we’ve gotten a lot better since last year.  We know that the jamboree last weekend was really just a scrimmage,  but we used it as a great learning experience,” he said in reference to Signal Mountain’s last-minute comeback and 10-7 win.

 “We return a lot of starters, so with depth and experience, that will help us as we have a lot of confidence going into the season.  We embrace the opportunity we have.  We surround ourselves with a brotherhood and it’s nice to know I have their support through good times and bad.

“My goal is to be a better man at the end of each day.  We have a chance to do something special and we want to be able to look back in the future with no regrets.  I’m getting there and nothing will stop me from being successful.  I’m thankful that I have the God-given ability to play football.

“We do all we can in preparation to win, but it’s really in His hands as to how things turn out,” he added with a serious tone.

Craig isn’t just a one-sport star at McCallie.  He also plays basketball in the winter while splitting his time between track and baseball in the spring.  He had a hard time making a pick when asked which was his favorite sport.

“It’s a seasonal thing with me, but I’m getting interest from colleges in both.  But right now, I’m hoping to play college football somewhere and I think I have a good shot,” he said, admitting that he’s gotten letters from schools like Tennessee, Duke, Florida, Ohio State and Clemson.

And what does he want to study in college?

“I’ve always wanted to be an aerospace engineer.  That way I’ll have something to fall back on when my football career is over,” he concluded.

JaVaughn has an interesting family situation. 

His stepfather is Eric Rivers, who was an outstanding athlete at City High back in the early 80s as he excelled in football, basketball and baseball.  LaShandra is his mother and she too was an outstanding athlete.

JaVaughn has a younger brother Eric, who is a seventh grader at Baylor, and a younger sister Kayla, who’s in the fourth grade at CSAS.  Ironically, his mother teaches at Baylor.

“My mother loves her job at Baylor, but she supports me in all I do.  Things get interesting around our house during Baylor-McCallie week, but it’s all a good thing,” JaVaughn said with a laugh.

Coach Potter, a former quarterback himself, knows just how tough the transition has been for young Craig, who will turn 17 on Nov. 23.

“It’s been a journey for him as he was a wide receiver when he started playing for us as a freshman.  He got thrown into the quarterback role last year and had a lot of success early on, but he went through a slump during the middle of the season.

“Nobody knew anything about him, but he was able to work his way through that slump and played well at the end of the season,” Potter said.

“He’s developed a lot of quarterback skills since last year and he can do a lot of things really well as he has a totally natural throwing motion.  He can take the ball and get it where it needs to be and that comes natural for him.  That’s something I can’t teach.

“I just expect him to do the best he can.  There are times when a play goes bad that he tries to do too much to correct it when there are times when you just have to live to play another down.

“JaVaughn has made a lot of big plays for us and he’s been to a bunch of camps.  He’s still growing as a quarterback, but he’s paid his dues.  In order for us to have a good football team, we have to have a good quarterback and that’s the direction he’s headed,” Potter concluded.

Tomorrow: East Ridge's Jo Jo Tillery

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)


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