2011 Football: Davie preview
By Brian Pitts
MOCKSVILLE — Davie of 2010 became a symbol of all things possible. A 5-6 afterthought when the playoffs began, the War Eagles staged an incredible run to the 4A championship game. Unbeaten Hillside hammered Davie 40-0, but Dec. 11, 2010 is a day that will live forever in Davie hearts.
“I’m sure that story will be told several times if we end up on that losing end,” said coach Doug Illing, who begins his 14th year with a 110-58 record. “It gives them something to shoot for. It was a shot in the arm that ‘Gosh, we can do this. We can get to the Big Dance.’ Our kids realize the work ethic that it’s going to take.
“We can’t wait 12 weeks to come together as a team. We’ve got to come together during summer and August. But it’s not a bad time to come together. I’d rather come together then than the opposite — come together early and lose it at the end.”
That extraordinary, state runner-up accomplishment, however, is yesterday’s news. It’s time to turn the page. The War Eagles graduated 28 seniors, and the defense is back to square one. The only returning starters on ‘D’ are Adam Smith (CB) and A.J. Blaskievich (LB/S), although Trevon Faulkner (OLB/CB) did see significant time. A ton of guys will have to grow up quickly.
“It’s a bunch of new faces,” Illing said. “There’s not a lack of talent. We’re just going to be a bunch of greenhorns. They’re going to have to earn their stripes as they go.”
Davie’s quarterback is the source of much optimism. Senior Adam Smith has the potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs of Illing’s tenure. If his passing continues to develop, he’s going to be the real deal.
Last year Smith was a starter at cornerback and the backup QB. He can really hurt defenses when he gets out of the pocket.
“In the past we haven’t always had that (running) threat, not a 4.5 kid that can break it for a touchdown on any play,” Illing said. “He has been timed in the low 4.5s consistently. We have a one-back offense, but we really have two backs in there.”
Davie’s fate hinges on Smith’s health. An injured Smith would be a double whammy because he also plays corner. On top of that, there’s no experienced backup.
Davie’s running backs should be a solid unit. Junior Stephon Smoot is the headliner, but Davie boasts significant depth in juniors Raekwon Gray and Devon Parks and seniors Denzel Redmon and Dylan Carpenter.
“We feel like we’ve got several that we’re going to eventually be able to put in there at any time,” Illing said.
Last year Smoot grew as a player as the season progressed. He went through sophomore growing pains, running for a modest 451 yards in the first 10 games. But he demonstrated staggering improvement in the rugged stretch drive, running for 495 yards in his last five games.
“We’re going to need him to be a 100-yard rusher a week and keep our defense off the field,” Illing said.
Davie has the tough task of replacing the top two receivers from ‘10 and five of the top six. Joe Watson (69 catches, 1,085 yards, 12 TDs) and Darius Wilson (30-483-3) were three-year starters, and Watson set virtually every receiving record.
There are no proven stars, and four receivers didn’t play football last year. Still, this group could still surprise.
Amazingly, a senior who hasn’t played football since ninth grade is seriously standing out. Nate Jones is a dynamic athlete who distinguished himself in basketball by scoring 30-plus points in three straight games.
“Nate has looked the best out of anybody,” receivers coach Chris Callison said. “He’s explosive, athletic and has real good hands. He would have been something if he would have been in the program for four years.”
What sets Jae-Re Peebles apart is he has the prototypical body for a receiver. If the junior gets off to a good start, which would add confidence to his physical gifts, watch out.
“(His frame) is what Catawba noticed right off the bat – his long arms, long strides and tall frame,” Illing said. “He’s a college prospect if he can produce and play consistently. He needs to get off on the right foot.”
With three offensive-line starters back and depth everywhere, Davie fully expects to have a formidable OL.
“We haven’t had the type of OL that you can lean on in a long time,” Illing said. “We’ve got seven guys that can probably get it done.”
Junior right guard Cole Blankenship (6-3, 280) is a menacing presence. The third-year starter is determined not to be just good. He’s already a serious college prospect as a junior.
“He could really put himself on the map,” Illing said. “He should be just demolishing people. It’s what he’s been talking about doing for a long time, and his time is now.”
Sophomore left tackle Trip McNeill (6-5, 278) is roughly the size of a bus. After starting at LT as a freshman, his potential is enormous.
“He definitely looks good in a uniform, and I don’t think that’s going to be the only thing you see him look good at,” Illing said. “I think you’re going to say he looks good on the field, too.”
Expectations are high for senior Mick Spillman (LG/C). The 5-11, 270-pounder started part of the 2010 year at center.
“I’ve really been proud of Mick’s leadership,” Illing said. “He’s started coaching teammates. I’m looking for a big year out of him. You’re going to see him make some noise up front as well.”
While there’s considerable excitement around the offense, there’s plenty of questions on defense.
The War Eagles played arguably the state’s most daunting schedule in ‘10, and they have another heavy slate in ‘11. Two of the trickiest games come right off the bat (Page at home, at West Rowan).
“It’s a tough, tough road,” Illing said. “We’ve got to be ready to play at a high level early.”
Against a schedule like this, there will be growing pains. But don’t forget: You can’t freak out over the outcome of these nonconference games. What matters most is the big picture. Remember Dec. 11, 2010? Of course you do. Some 8,000 orange-clad fans packed one side of the stadium to celebrate a monumental moment.
“Don’t count out those War Eagles,” Illing said. “We’re going to be alright.”