While Piedmont coach Steve Smith compared Callaway players’ athleticism to that of Class 3A Leeds and Region 5 opponents Weaver and Saks, Sparks showed no remorse picking apart the opposing defense and throwing multiple touchdowns.
“You can tell Ty is a coach’s kid,” Smith said. “He’s real heady and knows what he’s doing out there. He’s been a quarterback his whole life and he came here and joined the mix. We have a couple of kids that we’ve had in the program for a while that we like at that position, too.”
After shining at Randolph County under his father, Randy, the transfer is in the middle of a heavy competition for the starting spot with Tyler Lusk, who was a starting safety last year. In Piedmont's second game, Lusk threw two touchdowns on fade routes to pace a victory.
“Tyler and I have been battling all spring and summer,” Sparks said. “We work out and throw together, and there’s not any bad blood. We’re both competitors and want what’s best for the team. We take things lightly, have fun with it. Of course, I want to win, but it’s just fun getting to know him.”
Sparks said Lusk has “a cannon,” and Lusk is impressed by Sparks’ accuracy.
“We’re just fighting it out to see who can win it,” Lusk said.
Lusk, a rising junior, was the quarterback coming through middle school and junior high with this group of upperclassmen. Although Sparks is new on the scene, the position isn't new to him.
“It’s been a learning process, but the system is very similar to what we ran at Randolph County,” the rising senior said. “The route combinations and the whole scheme have the same formations, but just a little different terminology.
“The first day of spring was a little a rusty, but every day we’ve gotten better. We’re not where there now, but hopefully when we get to the jamboree against Jacksonville, we’ll be where we want to be.”
Smith wasn’t hesitant about throwing freshman Taylor Hayes’ name into the quarterback conversation.
“He probably fits the mold for what you’ve been used to seeing at Piedmont in a quarterback,” he said.“He’s a physical runner but in addition can throw the ball.”
While the competition at quarterback is a positive toward participating in summer 7-on-7 camps, Smith said he prefers the camps to help his defense, which also has a new face.
Former Spanish Fort safety Jacob Clark, son of Jacksonville State head coach Bill Clark, transferred to his father’s alma mater in March and hopes to continue a tradition he’s had his entire life.
“I’ve been winning all my life. Every team I’ve been on has been good,” Clark said. “I just want to keep that going.”
Clark, who was part of Spanish Fort’s 2012 Class 5A state championship team, has made one change on the field however, moving from safety to outside linebacker.
“If you look at Jake, he has a better body to be a linebacker,” Smith said. “He’s kind of a stocky, strong guy. I think he’ll be a better football player when he gets to put shoulder pads on.
“We’ve been trying to get him so work there. He got here right after spring break, so he got to know the kids a little bit and play with them after school. He’s getting better every day.”
The cause for change was bound to happen after Piedmont lost 23 seniors last year, which creates plenty of adjustment for Smith. The second-winningest coach in school history has several decisions to make before the Bulldogs take the field Aug. 22 against Jacksonville in their spring jamboree. Eight days later, they take a trip to Cherokee County to open the season.
“We have some good skill guys that we’re excited about that just need to some experience,” Smith said. “A lot of these guys have played some and some started last year, but a lot of them are just now getting their opportunity.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.