2008 Prep Football:Carson preview
By Nick Bowton
CHINA GROVE ó Carson coach Mark Woody rattles off the names of his speedy wide receivers, and you can tell he’s more excited about his 2008 offense than the ones he fielded in the Cougars’ first two football seasons.
When Woody starts talking about the size of his offensive linemen, the excitement grows.
Woody and Carson have yet to win a game in two seasons, but they plan on doing so this year in large part because a bunch of scrawny kids from two years ago have grown into football players.
“We have a kid that started for us two years ago, 210 pounds,” said Woody, referring to senior guard D.J. Safrit. “That same kid is 283 pounds. And they’re not sloppy kids either. They’re strong. My smallest (lineman) now is 230 pounds.
“We’ve changed who we are up front, and we have numbers.”
Carson, in fact, had more players show up for the first day of practice than any other school in the county. The Cougars are working with about 25 offensive linemen each day and have enough receivers stockpiled that Woody might not have to use 6-foot-4 sophomore Dylan Eagle.
On top of having more players and bigger players, Carson also has a group of guys that is finally familiar with the schemes.
The Cougars started from scratch two years ago and were slightly better last season ó but still finished 0-11.
“We’re pretty confident we can get a win, somewhere, somehow,” said Woody, whose team opens the season Aug. 29 at North Rowan. “We’re probably gonna get more than one. The biggest thing is we got experience. We’re able to start at a different level, where in the past we had to start from scratch. We’re better right now than we’ve been at any point in school history.
“In retrospect, there’s a lot of things that didn’t take place that first year that, to be honest with you, we weren’t ready to win.”
So what makes Carson ready this season?
A big reason is Daniel Yates’ move from running back to receiver.
Yates has been one of the best athletes in the county the past two seasons, but opposing defenses knew he would get the ball as Carson’s only legitimate offensive option.
As a result, Yates rushed 325 times for 1,004 yards the past two seasons, an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
This season Carson has sophomore Shaun Warren at running back and two fullback options in sophomores Jacquarian Brown and Clifford Long. At 5-11, 210 pounds, Long has already earned the praise of both Woody and Yates.
Discussing the Cougars’ offense, Yates talked about the size of the line and speed of the receivers, then offered this: “Then we got that new fullback, Cliff. Nobody can tackle him.”
Woody said Long or Brown would probably be in the backfield in a one-back offense, and Warren would join either one in a two-back set.
Yates, meanwhile, will join senior Travis Hayes and juniors Weston Snow, Zack Smith and Duwan Robertson at receiver.
Yates welcomes the change after being keyed on by defenses as a sophomore and junior.
“I’m not gonna have to worry about my line blocking,” said Yates, who doubles as the team’s punter. “I’m just gonna have to worry about if I get open ó I can just do it on my own. I’m probably gonna get half the touches but twice as much damage done to the other team.
“I was very excited when he told me I was moving to wide receiver. It was so much nicer. … Easier in practice too.”
Yates and his fellow wideouts will likely catch passes from senior Ryan Jones, who missed most of last season with a broken collarbone. Sophomore Zack Gragg returns, as well, after suffering an injury last season at the jayvee level.
The Cougars plan on keeping Jones healthy behind a line led by Safrit and the other starting guard, Steven Newton. Wayne Lyman plays center, and Colton Ballard and Josh Michael are candidates at tackle. Brandon Shuping and Tyler Christy are other options along the line.
As for the defensive line, Woody said he’s looking at “a lot of names,” some of which he’s still unsure about. Dakota Jones, Lewis Funderburke, Justice Schenck, Joseph Basinger, Micah Honeycutt and Zack White all are options.
Woody seemed more certain when it came to his linebackers and defensive backs, with John Mullis leading the way at linebacker after adding 30 pounds of muscle since last season.
“He’s really worked hard,” Woody said. “The kids have rallied around him just because.”
Brandon Goodman and Michael Childers also return at linebacker, and the Cougars’ lone freshman on the varsity roster is 6-foot, 217-pound linebacker Chris Barnhardt.
The secondary includes Zack Grkman, Scott Ashby, Jensen Harden and Joseph Keophilavanh.
“Those guys have been there for us,” Woody said. “They’re as good as I’ve seen. They’re playing extremely confident football right now. It’s hard to throw against us in practice.”
It’s also been tough for the defense to break through the offensive line, Yates said. And Woody will count on that group just as much as he’ll rely on his secondary to lead defensively.
“The thing that I’m more excited about is every time I walk out that door, my offensive line coach has 23 kids,” said Woody, later realizing the number had grown to 26. “You have those numbers on the offensive line, and however many kids come back year-in, year-out, physically changing their size, you’re gonna be successful.
“That’s what’s gonna make a difference for us.”