ELIZABETHTOWN — Speed, says the head coach, should eventually take care of starting slow.
East Bladen High’s football team is transitioning a number of players into more prominent roles this season. Sixteen seniors departed from a 12-win team, and while a front-loaded schedule could lead to concern, seventh-year head coach Robby Priest likes the chances of playing in November.
“We’re going to be all right,” he said. “We may start slow until we get some experience. I think by the end we’ll be all right.”
The Eagles come out of the gate with perennial 2-A heavyweight Clinton, then take on North Brunswick, South Columbus and Whiteville, the latter two of which combined for 23 wins a year ago.
“Athleticism and speed — we’re going to have to use that to our advantage on both sides of the ball,” Priest said. “We have playmakers that are good out and up in space, one-on-one deals.”
The Eagles’ wing-T will employ some shotgun formation with 5-foot-8 sophomore Zach Mears at quarterback. Priest likes what the right-hander’s history as a baseball shortstop and pitcher adds to his skill set.
“The mentality of the game situation, and game management, I think that’s an attribute that will help us,” Priest said. “He knows the game and he knows the situation. He’s had to throw a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and the score tied, so he’s been in a tight spot.”
He has one interior lineman back in junior Jordan Stanley, a 6-foot-2, 255-pounder. Tight end Tayshaun Berkeley, a 6-foot-1 junior, also returns.
The front should include senior center David Alsup, senior guard Tyrese McElveen and tackles Stanley and junior Rashard Willis. The other guard spot is still to be decided.
The skill positions, in addition to Mears, include senior wideouts Shy Pone and Josh McKoy.
The fleet of runners include seniors Eric Chancy and Jordan Payton, junior twins Lawson and Zach Hester, and juniors Jordan Robinson and Kasey Price.
When possession changes, most of the Eagles are going to stay on the field, Priest said.
In the 40-front scheme, senior Dayveon Washington, junior Xavier McKoy, Stanley, Price, Payton and the Hester twins will make up the front seven. Pone and senior Josh McKoy — the Eagles have two players by the name Josh McKoy; the other is an underclassman who plays on the line — are the corners, and Robinson and Berkeley the safeties.
“I like our speed, and how we get to the ball,” Priest said. “Last year, we were really really big, and not as fast team speed wise. We were fast in the secondary, but this year we’ll be fast up front, with the backers and on the back end with the DBs.”
On special teams, Alsup snaps, Mears holds and both Pierce Melvin and Gabe Barber are capable for place-kicking and punting duties.
Priest is assisted by offensive coordinator Terry Smith and defensive coordinator Kenzil McCall. Raymond Spell works with quarterbacks, Ritchie Priest — younger brother of the head coach — is in the secondary and former head coach Lenon Fisher coaches the defensive line. Mike Stallings is a volunteer coach working with kickers.
“We’re going to be tested every Friday night,” the head coach said. “We open with Clinton, then North Brunswick, then South Columbus and Whiteville. It’s heavy early.”
Jordan Robinson, a junior, is among a fleet of runners with eyes on returning the Eagles deep into the state playoffs.
Rashard Willis, Tyrese McElveen, David Alsup, Jordan Stanley and Rashard Willis, from left to right, will be clearing the way in East Bladen’s wing-T.
Alan Wooten can be reached at email@example.com or 910-247-9132.