2012 Football: A.L. Brown preview
By Ryan Bisesi
KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown coach Mike Newsome and his team have another hurdle to get over.
When Newsome was at Butler, Independence was the team that seemingly knocked the Bulldogs out of the playoffs every year.
In 2011, the Wonders were ousted by Charlotte Catholic for the second straight year and the third time since 2007. Brown finished 12-2 for the third straight year in Newsome’s first season as coach. The Wonders have had no problem ruling Cabarrus County lately, but are ready to make more of an impact on the state level.
“It’s definitely something I think our kids have in the back of their minds,” Newsome said. “I think it’s a mental hump our guys have got to get over.”
That’s not all that’s on their minds. Brown is a man down coming into the 2012 season. Linebacker Jonathan Cano died tragically on June 1. The theme for the team is “I am my brother’s keeper,” in honor of Cano.
“We felt like we needed to come together as a brotherhood and support each other,” Brown coach Mike Newsome said.
The Wonders bring back five starters on offense and four on defense. “Mr. Everything” Damien Washington is the biggest loss, now gracing North Carolina. Kaleel Hollis, last year’s SPC Defensive Player of the Year, graduated, as did quarterback Brandon Eppinger.
Newsome admits some key components to last year’s squad aren’t there, but there’s plenty for the Wonders to compete for a sixth straight South Piedmont Conference title.
“Right now, we’re not as good as we were last year,” Newsome said.
On offense, the keys to the ignition will be receiver Keeon Johnson and running back Kalif Phillips. They’re back for their senior seasons to lead an offense that averaged 41 points a game in 2011. Johnson has signed with Virginia, and Phillips, the returning SPC Offensive Player of the Year, is fielding interest from schools such as Notre Dame.
“We’re going to take advantage of our threats in Keeon and Kalif and make sure we do everything to get the ball in their hands,” Newsome said.
Last year, Johnson accumulated 770 receiving yards and nine touchdowns among 38 catches, a team-best. Phillips rushed for 1,589 yards and scored 23 TDs on the ground. The dual-purpose threat also had 20 catches for 364 yards and reached the end zone seven times.
“It’s going to force defenses to defend the whole field versus being able to put eight guys in the box and defend the run,” Newsome said.
Ricky Sherrill sat out last year after transferring from South Rowan but joins the Wonders as a 5-foot-11, 215-pound potential force running the ball.
“He’s more of a bigger, bruiser-style runner,” Newsome said. “Kind of like the running backs that I had when I was at Butler.”
Senior Keenan Medley (5-10, 180) will start at quarterback after being a running back in 2011. Medley was a key cog in the backfield, carrying the ball 33 times for 360 yards and five touchdowns.
“He’s really smart so he understands where to throw the ball,” Newsome said. “Right now, he’s not quite throwing it right where it needs to be. He’s got great running ability and I think as his passing ability improves, it’ll allow us to be pretty potent on offense.”
As long as he throws it in the vicinity of Johnson, it should be caught.
“When you’ve got a big Division I receiver, he’s got to pick up the slack a little bit,” Newsome said.
On the offensive line, Brandon Parker is the hoss of the group at 6-7, 260 pounds at left tackle. Left guard will be occupied by returner Zeb Ritchie (5-10, 210). Center will be decided between junior Kaleb Spry, Robert Odom and Kyle Cauble.
Cauble is also a candidate for right guard as well as J.P. Patterson. Right tackle is in flux as sophomore Josh Barlow and Bernard Wilson (6-5, 225) will fight for time.
Jake Brandon is a returning starter at tight end with Brett Simpson and Victor Bermudez providing depth. Phillips and Dante’ Pinkston are slot receivers. Pinkston ran for 336 yards last year in limited time.
On the defensive line, Josh Caldwell (5-10, 285) and Kendall Holmes (5-10, 290) are cement blocks, according to Newsome and look to replace Darius Rice and Gerald Holt. Defensive end Shakil Gore (5-10, 200) led the team in sacks last year. Hunter Allman, Tim Gallon and Skylar Rhoads all should see time on the DL.
Senior J.P. Lott leads the defense at safety and is joined by Kenon Jones, Daveon Perry, Johnny Delahoussaey and Fredric Farewell.
Erik Amaya will handle kicking duties again and punter Matt Brown is up from JV. Phillips, Johnson and Lott will be among those returning kicks and punts.
Brown’s ahead of the game as far as learning the coaching system and philosophies Newsome’s installed. Last year, Newsome, who carries a career record of 106-19, came in April.
Brown starts the season off on Thursday night, Aug. 16, at Shelby. Porter Ridge, which dealt Brown its lone regular-season loss last year, comes to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7.
In the SPC, Newsome looks for it to come down to his team and rival Concord, which brings back fourth-year starter at quarterback B.J. Beecher. Brown, per usual, is the preseason favorite to win, with Concord picked second and Cox Mill third. The Wonders will move up to 4A next season.
“Concord is, I feel like, the best team in the conference,” Newsome said. “Hickory Ridge is always tough. All the conference teams got better.”