DUBLIN — West Bladen lost 13 seniors from its 6-5 team of a year ago, nearly every one a key cog on both sides of the ball for the Knights.
“We lost some good people and good football players who started for us over the past three seasons,” said head coach Russell Dove. “So right now it’s a bit of a slow process getting new faces into the right places.”
Losses from last year’s team include quarterback Colby Lewis, scatback Malcolm Vaught, lineman Brandon Council, linebacker Trevor Lesane, runningback Kesean Sutton, lineman Scottie Storms and seven others.
“The kids seem to be embracing the challenges we have,” Dove said. “We have some good young players who will need to step up, but it’s going to take time.”
Stepping in at quarterback to run the Knights’ hybrid Wing T offense will be senior Stefon McDonald, who saw limited action as the backup last season. He will be making the transition from wide receiver, where he was a speedy, go-get-it guy.
“Stefon is very athletic who will give us a lot of options. And he’s a good leader,” Dove said. “But he will need time to get comfortable in that position.”
Dove added that runningbacks Malique McDowell and Da’quan Lennon will need to have solid senior seasons carrying the ball.
Another area where big changes will take place is on the offensive line, where only senior Donald McCullum returns.
“That’s going to be a huge area of focus for us,” Dove said. “But the kids are steadily getting better.”
Defensively, West Bladen will operate primarily out of the 4-4 with a number of variations, and Dove has been pleased with what he’s seen there already.
“I think we’re faster than we’ve been in the past,” he said. “Maybe not as big, but we’re expecting good things on defense. We’ve spent a lot of time on defense so far.”
Dove said he’s looking for junior Hunter Pait to be the defensive leader after a solid sophomore season that saw him make 100 tackles at linebacker.
After a non-conference schedule that features a good Whiteville team and plenty of spread offense, the Knights will have a conference schedule that some say is the toughest in the state.
“Pretty typical Four County Conference schedule … really good,” Dove said. “Wallace-Rose Hill, Clinton, East Bladen — you don’t get any tougher than that. And Midway is always tough.”
Dove said the Knights’ goal is to put together a winning season, challenge for a conference title and make the playoffs.
“We’re hoping the success we’ve had the past two seasons helps us achieve those goals,” he added.
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.