2009 Football: East Rowan preview
By David Shaw
Third-year coach Brian Hinson isn’t sponsoring some cash-for-clunkers program at East Rowan, but he is promising an upgrade.
“We will be better,” he insisted following a recent practice. “Our record may not reflect it, but we will be better. We already are.”
That may not be much of a stretch. East returns only seven starters from a 2008 team that was, at times, more dysfunctional than the Osbournes. Several players were dismissed, a few others quit and more than a handful suffered injuries. At one point late in the season, the Mustangs had only 16 healthy varsity players.
“That makes it hard to win,” said senior lineman Nathan Robbins, a third-year starter. “But if anyone can turn us around, it’s Hinson. He’s a good teacher. He can sit a player down and talk to him and show him what he needs to do.”
Hinson did plenty of teaching a year ago, when East dropped its last nine games and finished 1-10 overall. Its problem was two-fold: first the offense folded ó it averaged 9.5 points per game ó then the defense collapsed, yielding 32 per week.
“We weren’t good at anything,” Hinson said with a slow head shake. “With the exception of a couple of kids, it wasn’t a real cohesive team.”
This one should be. The Mustangs are eager to seal last season in a mental vault and store it in a remote corner of the attic.
“Everyone’s more excited,” said junior Jordan Hopper. “Our practices aren’t quiet anymore. There’s a lot of yelling and a lot of hitting.”
Perhaps there is reason for optimism at East, guarded though it may be. It begins with quarterback Jamey Blalock, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior who steered ER’s jayvee squad to a 4-6 record and appeared in two varsity games last fall. Already, he’s asserted himself as the man-in-charge.
“Nobody likes losing ó especially me,” he said. “I’m confident we’re going to win. The linemen are working hard every day and the whole team has a new mentality. Nobody wants another season like last year.”
Hinson concedes Blalock may be tall and thin but reports the signal-caller can power-clean 240 pounds.
“He’s pretty well put together,” said Hinson.
East’s offense will feature a lot of two-back formations with some option sets in the playbook. The feature backs are Dominique Simpson (5-11, 178) and Chris Moore (5-8, 159), a couple of hard-nosed grinders.
“Neither one has blazing speed,” said Hinson. “But they’re real football players.”
Backups include Logan Arey, Quentin Sifford and Sam Edmonds.
When East needs to pass, Blalock’s chief targets will be seniors Riley Weber and Preston Troutman. Weber, owner of the team’s best hands, is a basketball player by trade making his first appearance on the gridiron. Troutman, a top-shelf infielder, will be the backup quarterback.
“Preston has a great arm,” Hinson said. “And pound-for-pound he’s probably the strongest kid in the school.”
East’s offensive line was a glaring weakness last year. Expect improvement from tackles Jacob Patch (6-4, 210) and Kendall Morgan (6-4, 203); guards Greysen Gordy (5-10, 230) and Robbins (5-11, 246); and center Dalton Miller (5-10, 230), a jayvee graduate. Ross Cooper (6-1, 222) is the tight end. Senior Chris Demitraszek (6-0, 240), a two-year starter on the defensive line, will work his way into the OL rotation once he recovers from an injury. As it stands right now, Gordy and Robbins ó both all-county candidates ó are the best of the bunch.
“They’ve got some fire,” said Hinson. “But sometimes offensive linemen try to make the game too mental. They think too much and that slows you down. You’ve just got to get off the ball and play fast and mean.”
East will likely be better without the ball than with it. It’s defensive line includes nose guard Jeffrey Halton (5-8, 245) sandwiched between tackles Sam Sherman (5-10, 245) and Jesse Meismer (6-3, 245). Hinson calls them “hardbodies with fast feet.”
They’ll be spelled by Demitraszek, Gordy and junior Wilson Weeks (5-8, 260).
Hinson plans to do a lot of slanting and stunting, meaning inside linebackers Sam Edmonds and Hopper will play active roles. Edmonds can read a quarterback like a menu and Hopper’s a second-year starter discovered in gym class.
“Those guys are all-conference and all-county,” Hinson implied. “If they’re not, then I’m crazy.”
East faces an enviable predicament at outside linebacker ó three dirt-eating ruffians for two positions. Hinson will use ER’s pre-season scrimmages to decide between Taylor Lester, Tyler Bumgarner and Sifford ó expected back from a knee injury by Week 1 or 2.
“Sifford’s only a junior, but he’s got the body of a man,” Hinson said. “He looks like a Greek god, someone who could be special.”
The Mustangs have a young but impressive secondary. Junior Evan Hiatt ó a late-season call-up in ’08 ó and sophomore Mitchell Gibson are penciled in as starting cornerbacks. Senior Josiah Hurst, a converted linebacker, is the strong safety and sophomore Wesley LeRoy ó who quit the team last year to focus on baseball ó is a sideline-to-sideline free safety. Watch for Weber, Troutman and junior Colin Brown to see action off the bench.
Senior Andrew May returns as East’s kicker/punter. Hiatt and Troutman will return kicks and either Weber, LeRoy or Troutman will be named the starting punt returner.
“It’s enough to get by for now,” said Hinson. “Special teams could end up being a strong part of our team by the end of the year.”
Perhaps the biggest change this year is ER’s attitude. Hinson has hired Jim Sabo as an on-field athletic trainer ó hoping to keep the Mustangs healthy ó and brought in new-school assistant coaches Hunter Thompson and Josh Eury.
But is it enough to begin morphing a leak-springing dinghy into a prized yacht?
“All I know is these kids want to be here,” Hinson said. “It’s much easier to coach when you don’t have to use a cattle prod to get kids to work. These kids have shown up and they’re doing it on their own.
“That alone,” he concluded, “can win you some games.”
Follow the Mustangs
Aug. 21 North Rowan
Aug. 28 Salisbury
Sept. 4 Concord
Sept. 11 at Hickory Ridge
Sept. 18 at Cox Mill
Sept. 25 West Iredell*
Oct. 2 at Carson*
Oct. 9 at Statesville*
Oct. 16 Open
Oct. 23 West Rowan*
Oct. 30 at North Iredell*
Nov. 6 South Rowan*
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
*3A North Piedmont