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Spring Practice Tour: Mill Creek Hawks

A closer look at the Mill Creek Football program, with great facilities, two elite recruits, and a winning culture.

HOSCHTON, Ga. - First off, a big thank you to Head Coach Josh Lovelady and his staff. They were fantastic on Tuesday. That helps make everything below possible.

Just a little bit northeast of Atlanta is one of the best prep football hotbeds in America. It’s Gwinnett County. Every Power Five school in America has its eye on this talent-rich location. One of the schools producing the talent would be Mill Creek. It’s the type of place that’s easy for anyone that’s visited to see why players would want to go to school at Mill Creek.

Great campus, great facilities, and coaches that get after it from the opening whistle. Those were the first things that were noticed when watching Tuesday’s practice. It was a beautiful day for football, and everyone representing the Hawks took full advantage.

On the sidelines were college coaches from a variety of schools scouting, including Kent State and Texas among others. It’s a daily routine with several players on the rise and also two elite recruits that certainly showed their talents.

Jamal Anderson, Jr., LB - 2023

Jamal Anderson, Jr. Linebacker Hoschton (Ga.) Mill Creek - 2023

One of the most impressive athletes in Georgia and the country is Jamal Anderson, Jr.

When a person walks up to Anderson, he or she might believe he’s a wide receiver. At 6’4”, 195-pounds, Anderson even looks like a wide receiver. The way he runs, turns, and uses his hands, yes, all of those traits also say wide receiver. Then you watch this young man go through drills and it’s not a wide receiver that one witnesses.

His first step explosion during tackling drills says defense, not offense. His ability to bend and change direction when chasing the ball carrier do not say offense either.

Anderson is an athlete with a wiry frame, one that can fill out to 225-pounds and still be quick and agile in space. His best play of the day, ironically, actually came during a passing drill.

Anderson turned in the air and made a one-handed snag that carried him to the ground, yet he still held onto the football. It was an amazing catch. Everyone was cheering and giving him props. He attacked the football on that play like a receiver, but those skills are still likely slated to be used on defense.

Anderson’s attacking style is why he’s earned over 30 offers. He’s slated to visit Clemson (June 3) and Michigan State (June 10), with more visits possibly coming. This young man has a tremendous future in front of him.

Caleb Downs, Safety - 2023

Caleb Downs Safety Hoschton (Ga.) Mill Creek - 2023

One of the best all-around recruits in the class of 2023 would be safety Caleb Downs. Hard to find a player with his natural gifts and demeanor combined.

Arguably the nation’s premier safety would be Downs. His 6’0”, 185-pound frame is rocked up. While he looks the part of an elite recruit, it’s what he does above the shoulders that matters most. Downs wants to not only improve himself, but he also wants to see his teammates improve with each repetition.

Downs was consistently helping his teammates with exactly how to do drills, including hand placement for tackling, block destruction, how and when to break down when going after a ball carrier headed for the sidelines, etc. It was awesome to see such a highly decorated recruit be so humble and yet also push his teammates so hard. That’s fantastic to see!

As for Downs and his abilities, make no mistake, he attacks downhill. As one coach stated about Downs as practice went on, “He’s a face tackler.” What the coach meant is that Downs hits his opponent, wraps the player up with his arms, and then he will drive the ball carrier to the ground. He’s a classic tackler. Seeing him stalk ball carriers before driving on the player was also outstanding. His best attribute, however, is one that is not often used to describe a safety prospect.

Downs has a natural first-step burst that’s usually reserved for players at cornerback. He closes the gap between himself and the offensive player as quickly as any safety within recent memory. His speed also helps when playing man coverage, as seen in the following video:

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That’s a natural physical skill combined with the instincts to take advantage of that natural gift. Downs is also quite adept at placing his foot in the ground and making a definitive change of direction. That’s not a typical safety either.

Downs was running routes and catching the football like a wide receiver, and it looked quite natural. Overall, Downs is a football player first. He could probably play running back, wide receiver or safety and be just fine at the college level.

Caleb Downs Safety Hoschton (Ga.) Mill Creek - 2023

Downs somehow caught this pass despite barely grasping it with his right hand. 

Speaking of colleges, he’s starting to narrow down his recruitment, and mentioned that he would like to have a decision in August. He still has a litany of schools coming after him. With that in mind, Downs’ visit schedule might have some rearranging coming. Downs will likely publish something on social media this week or next.

Looking at Mill Creek Football overall, this is a winning culture. Everyone was competing, getting after it, while still having fun. It was obvious that the coaching staff cared and the players respected them. That’s not always the case even when it’s a program that’s been through success. When there’s respect between players and coaches, that means there’s a chance for long-term stability and winning. Mill Creek fits that profile quite well. It’s safe to say that many other good players will be coming through this program in the future. Word travels fast when things are good.

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