DUBLIN — The West Bladen football Knights have been out on the practice field chewing up turf since Saturday, the official start of fall practice for all high-school teams, and it’s quite evident from the start that this is a new-look West Bladen team.
“We lost some good players and some leadership,” said assistant coach Travis Pait. “But I think we’ve got some playmakers to step in.”
The Knights have about 35 players out for the varsity team this season.
Perhaps the biggest loss is on the offensive line, where four players graduated — including the hulking frame of Brandon Council. Pait said the O-line is probably the biggest focus now, with only Donald McCullum returning.
The biggest change on the offensive side of the ball comes with the loss of quarterback Colby Lewis and versatile scatback Malcolm Vaught. But coach Russell Dove has switched wide receiver Stefon McDonald under center, and running backs Malique McDowell and De’quan Lennon are set to fill the running lanes.
“Colby was a fullback-type of quarterback who bulled straight ahead. Stefon gives us more athleticism and a lot more options,” Dove said. “Malcolm is hard to replace, but I think Malique and Day-Day can be a good one-two punch.”
The Knights are coming off a 6-5 season that saw them qualify for the state’s Class 2-A playoffs for the second srtaight season, but were kept home because of a melee late in the season that saw three players ejected. North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules state that no team will be allowed to participate in the playoffs if three or more players are ejected from a game.
“I think we’ve learned a lesson from that,” Pait said. “It was a hard lesson, because the kids all worked so hard for (the playoffs). But still, we’ve just had the best two-year stretch in school history.”
West Bladen has gone 11-12 over the past two seasons, 6-8 in the conference.
If the Knights are to be successful, Dove emphasized throughout practive the three keys: “We need to see excitement, energy and heart every practice and every game,” he told the varisty players.
The Knights will open their scrimmage schedule on Tuesday when they travel to Green Sea/Floyd, S.C.