2009 Football: A.L. Brown preview
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó Young.
Ask any A.L. Brown coach about the 2009 version of the Wonders, and that’s the first word out of his mouth.
Coaches aren’t just poor-mouthing.
A super senior class headlined by dynamic quarterback Jamill Lott is gone. The Wonders literally are green this year, and they have no idea yet if they’ll have a passing game.
There aren’t many recognizable faces on the practice field. There aren’t many familiar names on the roster. There aren’t many guys who have been on the field at Memorial Stadium on a Friday night when there was still any doubt whatsoever about the outcome.
Head coach Ron Massey always looks antsy and worried in August, but he looks even glummer than usual ó if glummer is a word.
“Last year we knew what we had ó this year we don’t,” Massey said. “It’s going to be more up and down just because we’re so young and inexperienced.”
Rebuilding year? In Kannapolis?
Well, sort of. The catch is that when the Wonders rebuild, it usually means 8-3 or 9-2, plus a couple of playoff wins. Brown’s varsity owns 31 straight winning seasons.
Brown’s jayvees also haven’t experienced a losing season in three decades, and they were unstoppable and unbeaten in 2008. The youngsters are used to winning.
There is size, talent and speed on hand to balance the inexperience, and it’s probable the Wonders will be good by October. They may be a handful by November.
As potent as last season when they unloaded 56 points on rival Concord and reached a state title game for the first time since 1997 when Nick Maddox was in the backfield?
But good enough to win the championship in the restructured 3A South Piedmont, where there’s no obvious top-10 or even top-15 team.
One thing that has to be considered is an upgraded non-conference schedule. It’s possible all four teams Brown plays outside the SPC will be better than any of the seven it plays in its league games.
It’s going to be entertaining. It’s also going to be tough. Brown will play all those non-league games early while it’s still trying to figure out who will play where.
“Yeah, the schedule will be a challenge for us,” Massey said. “Statesville has speed. South Rowan should be as good as it’s been with all those skill players. Our other two are with a state champion (perennial 1AA kingpin Thomasville) and a fourth-round playoff team.”
That fourth-round playoff team is Massey’s previous school ó Kings Mountain. The Wonders beat the Mountaineers during last season’s playoff run.
Massey will get his 100th win at Brown this season. He’s 97-27 so there’s every reason to believe he’ll get things sorted out with the help of a lot of experienced assistant coaches.
“We won’t be as wide-open as we have been on offense,” Massey said. “We’ll be more methodical, try not to turn it over. We won’t be a big-play team. I just don’t see that kind of personnel this year on offense or special teams.”
No one can replace Lott, but someone has to play quarterback. Candidates are Martel Campbell, Tyler Gilmore and Michael Church.
Look for Campbell, a junior who saw limited varsity time last season, to start.
“Campbell’s smart, but he’s still learning when to throw and when not to,” Massey said.
Gilmore probably will wind up as a key member of a depleted receiving corps. Sophomore Damien Washington probably will quarterback the jayvees, but he’s talented enough to develop into a varsity factor.
The Wonders are still blessed with running backs. Stocky senior Antwoine Jordan rushed 123 times for 700 yards and 10 TDs. Rangy junior Travis Riley rushed 63 times for 363 yards and nine TDs. Riley started last season with the jayvees and ended it on the shelf with a shoulder injury, but he was productive whenever he was healthy. He found the end zone four times in the playoffs.
“We’ll depend on those two to carry us offensively until we can get the passing game going,” Massey said.
Big tight end Spencer Falls hasn’t played much on varsity, but he knows the offense and will get his chance as a senior. Soph Terrance Knox could be a future star at tight end. Brown employs two tight ends in some formations so Alex Brandon and Parish Smith could figure in as well.
Massey said the wideouts are the biggest question mark. The Wonders will miss T.J. Johnson and Colby Reid. The returners have accounted for a grand total of three varsity receptions.
Gilmore, sprinter Dillon Robinson, Xavier Stanback, Winston Johnson and Tevin Jones, who is returning from a collarbone injury, are candidates. Jones grabbed two passes in the state championship game.
The offensive line returns a rock in senior leader Tavis Bailey, last season’s starting center and a probable guard this time. The Wonders also are counting on center Tyrone Langley and powerful, 265-pound tackle Sheldon Saddler to take starting roles.
Also battling for jobs are Matt Griffin, Charles Mance, Daniel McFaddin, Luke Seagroves and Trenton Nobles.
“The offensive line is such a unitized group, it just takes time to put all the pieces together and get some cohesion,” Massey said.
Brenden Brown will be the placekicker, replacing three-year standout Morgan McDaniel. Andrew Leslie, also a linebacker, will punt.
Defense should be the Wonders’ strength, and that’s putting it mildly.
Massey admits the Wonders “look good upfront.” which means they’ll be formidable.
Dana Moss is a returning starter at defensive end. End Mark Goodjohn and interior linemen Dominique Phifer and 265-pound soph Gerald Holt all saw extensive action.
Terrance Johnson, recovered from a pair of ACL injuries, should be an All-State candidate at middle linebacker. He’s 250-plus pounds, and he can move. He scored two defensive TDs in one game last year. Desmond Gray, terrific in the state championship game is a likely starter. Leslie, Ryan Blackmon, Keenan Williamson and Dajon Torrence round out a solid crew.
Mighty mites Josh Black and Mike Robinson, a pair of 145-pound corners, return to lead the secondary. Kaleel Hollis and Quin Gill are trying to nail down the safety spots. In the mix are Ivory Simiton, Shequez Weaks and basketball standout Jaques Deese.
“We’ll depend on the defense to carry us,” Massey said. “They’ll be quick enough that they should force some turnovers. Hopefully, they won’t give up very many easy scores.”
While the offense has serious growing to do, look for the Wonders to put up one more conference championship banner. It would be the 24th, the 22nd since 1979.
Follow the Wonders
Aug. 21 Statesville
Aug. 28 at South Rowan
Sept. 4 at Thomasville
Sept. 11 Open
Sept. 18 Kings Mountain
Sept. 25 at Robinson*
Oct. 2 Central Cabarrus*
Oct. 9 Cox Mill*
Oct. 16 at Mount Pleasant*
Oct. 23 Hickory Ridge*
Oct. 30 at NW Cabarrus*
Nov. 6 Concord*
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
*3A South Piedmont