2011 Football: AL Brown preview
By Ryan Bisesi
KANNAPOLIS — In Kannapolis, the head football coach of the Wonders is a position held in higher regard than even some high-ranking government jobs. For the coach of the Wonders, it’s no wonder.
“I feel like the president of the United States having to schedule all this media stuff,” said Mike Newsome, never one to shy away from addressing the press.
The incoming coach at A.L. Brown has a lot to be proud of, having won two straight state championships at Butler, and doesn’t want that to stop just because he switched schools.
“I told them I didn’t want to take time to get my system in place,” said Newsome, who took over after Ron Massey coached 11 seasons. “We want to win now.”
There’s plenty of reason for optimism. The Wonders return 30 lettermen and 12 starters from a squad that went 7-0 in the 3A South Piedmont Conference and 12-2 overall before falling to Charlotte Catholic in the playoffs. High expectations are nothing new in Kannapolis, where the Wonders have won nine of the last 10 SPC titles.
Oh, and Newsome hasn’t coached a loss in three years, winning his last 31 games at Butler.
Although running back Travis Riley, quarterback Martel Campbell and receiver Teven Jones have moved on, A.L. Brown remains stacked with lots of familiar faces on the field. The Wonders are a program, not a team. Unlike some head coaching changes that bring almost a completely new staff, virtually all the assistants return.
“This team’s been well-coached and you can tell they’ve been well-coached in the past so that’s not changed any,” Newsome said. “We’ve still got to improve in every aspect of the game.”
The Wonders will throw multiple offensive formations at opponents this year, hoping to keep defenses guessing about a unit that averaged almost 30 points a game last year. Newsome’s bringing the same looks he used at Butler. After four days of practice, he was confident the team had picked it up quickly.
“People ask me what we run on offense and there’s really no description because we run so many different things,” Newsome said. “Which I think leads to giving defenses trouble.”
Damien Washington’s dexterity will be utilized heavily, as the roster marks him ATH. Washington saw an increase in playing time last year and capitalized, running the ball 63 times for 633 yards. He tied for second on the team last year with nine touchdowns. Variety is the key of Newsome’s offense and Washington, who recently committed to UNC, isn’t excluded from it.
“He’ll play receiver, he’ll play halfback and at quarterback some,” Newsome said. “We’re going to take advantage of his athleticism and use him wherever we need him.”
At quarterback, Brandon Eppinger, briefly on the roster last year at Carson after transferring from Georgia, is the likely starter. Keenan Medley, last year’s JV quarterback, will be the backup.
Newsome plans to use a multitude of players to throw, run and catch.The Wonders’ multiple-offense format will see a legion of backs get carries including Xavier Stanback, who carried the ball 106 times for 451 yards in 2010. Junior Kalif Phillips is up from the JV team and should get ample time in the backfield as well the secondary.
Newsome loves his junior wide receiver Keeon Johnson, who “looks like he’s chiseled out of rock” at 6-foot-3, 185-pounds. Johnson was the second-leading receiver on the team last year, catching 28 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s one of the best receivers I’ve seen in a long time,” Newsome said.
Phillips, Robert Pinkston, Stanback and Salvador Gutierrez are slated to get most of the carries for the Wonders.
Hunter Morris, projected to be the starting center, had a serious leg injury occur on Wonder Day, the team’s first official scrimmage, but Phillip Halstenburg is a guard that is another returning starter.
The offensive line boasts stout builds such as Deterius Moody (270 pounds), Darrin Torrence (295), Ryan Lewis (280) and Brandon Parker (260).
At tight end, Jake Brandon, Miguel Yanez and Victor Bermudez all look to snag catches.
On the defensive line, Gerald Holt, Darius Rice and Jericho Rivers will lead in the trenches, along with Soloman Parks and Hunter Alman
The linebacking corps includes Phillips and seniors Kaleel Hollis, Rashad Cannon, Joey Whitmore, Steven Jordan and Perry Kesler.
Juniors Micah Miller, Orlando Gray, Kyle Cauble and J.P. Lott also returns to linebacker to add experience. The secondary will include input from Shaquel Edwards, Jamar Clemons, Miles Connor and Kenon Jones.
Looking around the SPC, Newsome expects a good year from Cox Mill, just in its third year of existence and coming off a 7-5 season. Most prognosticators see no harm in seeing the Wonders cruise to another conference crown.
The season opener against Shelby will be anticipated for a bevy of reasons, while the regular-season finale against bitter rival Concord will be another spectacle, with the Wonders having won three of the last four.
Even with all the accolades that Brown has acquired in recent history, its last state title came in 1997. But no fear, Newsome’s got two of those.
“Going back and starting things new with a new team has been exciting for me,” Newsome said. “It’s exciting.”
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