2012 Football: Salisbury preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
SALISBURY — Having a championship team does wonders for the players who follow it.
Salisbury won the 2AA state crown in 2010 and two years later, the Hornets feel like they can get back to the big show.
“I promise you the expectations of our kids are to be playing in late November or early December,” Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan said. “Realistically, can we do that? We have to improve a lot of things.”
Mainly on defense. Salisbury lost almost all of its starters who helped the Hornets to the third round of last year’s playoffs.
Offense is another story. Pinyan has a group that can score quickly or ram it down your throat four and five yards a clip.
It all starts with a backfield that is the Central Carolina Conference’s best. Pinyan returns seniors at quarterback (Brian Bauk), halfback (Justin Ruffin) and fullback (Max Allen).
“Brian is by far the best player in the county,” Pinyan insisted. “He knows what it takes to win.”
Bauk is also the fastest Hornet. He threw for 670 yards and ran for 919 last year in an 11-3 season. He took over for John Knox, who led Salisbury to that title.
“I never expected anyone to pick up the option that well,” Pinyan said.
Bauk’s backups are sophomore Riley Myers, who will start on jayvee, senior Keion Adams or sophomore receiver Erik Murray.
Ruffin, the speedster, rushed for 1,138 yards last year, 10 more than Allen. He reached the end zone 22 times.
“Ruffin has exceptional speed,” Pinyan said of his 5-foot-8, 186-pounder, who runs a 4.4 in the 40. “The difference this year is, because of the weight room, he doesn’t mind running over somebody. I’m worried about the guys tackling him. He isn’t just outrunning you. He’s taking the thrill of running you over while he does it.”
Allen is another in a long line of 5-9 fullbacks like Ike Whitaker.
“He has the same determination,” said Pinyan of Allen, who had a 294-yard game in the playoffs. He can also play some halfback.”
The other halfback position will be by committee. Senior Braylon Dailey, juniors Tony Krider and Travon Ellis, and sophomore A.J. Hill will see time there.
Dailey has good speed. Krider led the jayvees in rushing and Ellis is the wild card. He can play halfback or fullback. Hill has great vision.
“Each one of those guys can play another position,” Pinyan said. “It’s a pretty good backfield, capable of putting up big numbers. Ball security for this bunch needs to be an issue.”
The backs have a solid offensive line in front of them, led by three-year starter Parker McKeithan at guard.
“He can have a breakout season,” Pinyan said. “He needs to be the leader of the offensive line. He’s 6-5, 290 so they’re going to be looking up at him anyway.”
Sophomore Michael Dyson (5-10, 215) is the other guard.
“He has really looked good,” Pinyan said. “We’ve got to get him out of that panic mode young kids go through.”
Junior Malik Wilson (5-10, 220) is the center. Tackles are Tim Rhodes (5-10, 205) and returning starter Jalen Warren (5-8, 175).
“Warren might be the smallest tackle in the state,” Pinyan chuckled. “But I promise you, he’ll play harder than anybody.”
Rhodes was a guard on jayvee and will be the backup center, a spot where Wilson is doing well.
Salisbury can also turn to Jonathan Rankin (6-0, 240), Walkil Harrison (5-11, 190) and L.J. Hairston (5-10, 385).
“Warren has shown leadership,” Pinyan said. “Rhodes has been a pleasant surprise. I feel OK.”
The wishbone can even pass it. In a scrimmage last week, the Hornets’ first three scores were on Bauk tosses.
“We’ve become a little bit of an air show,” grinned Pinyan.
Bauk will be throwing to 6-4 junior Jon Mark Petty, who has tight end size, Murray and junior Forrest Pfaff. Senior Ben Ritchie returns as the tight end. Ryan Jones is a long, lean 6-1, sophomore.
“Petty has great hands,” Pinyan said. “Murray has looked good in 7-on-7s. Pfaff is a possession guy. Ritchie does a great job blocking. He’ll be a good solid leader for us.”
Michael Mazur has left as the kicker and will be replaced by younger brother Steven, who was kicking the ball into the end zone as a freshman.
“He’s got a pretty strong leg,” Pinyan said.
Petty and Bauk are vying for the punting duties.
Bauk gives Salisbury the threat of a run while Pinyan said Petty “has a left-footed cannon.”
An inexperienced defense will be led by solid senior lineman Scott Givens, who has grown to 6-0, 255.
“He’s put on 15 pounds but it’s a good 15,” Pinyan said.
Isaiah Little is a 6-2, 270-pound sophomore who is coming off an injury to his finger. Christian Cabrera was ineligible last year but is back for his senior season, all 6-4, 252 pounds of him. That’s a huge mass of muscle up front.
Dequann Vann (6-0, 190), Desmond Millsaps (5-11, 210) and Tim Harmon (5-11, 260) are also on the defensive line.
Pinyan has two solid linebackers in senior Adams (6-2, 230) and junior Clint Comadoll (6-4, 190).
“Keion has a lot of looks from colleges,” Pinyan said. “He has size and speed. I think Comadoll is going to be a great player.”
The third linebacker is 5-10, 205-pound junior Jaquez Finger. Backups include Jeffrey Burton, Dyson and Ritchie.
The Hornet position, which is part safety, part defensive end, is bringing back starter Quan Davis, a 6-0, 157-pound senior, and Bobby Johnson, one of the best defensive players on jayvee last year.
“They are both solid football players,” Pinyan said.
Kevin Barrett and Jordan Oglesby are other options.
The cornerbacks are juniors Antwuan Payne and Phillip Kennedy, seniors Jayquan Smith and Buster Hillie and soph Dante Gaston.
Safeties could include Rasean Bledsoe, Davis, Johnson, Allen and Bauk.
“The defense needs to have success in pressure situations,” Pinyan said. “Somewhere, those guys must have a goal-line stand or create a turnover that leads to a touchdown. That will give them the focus and confidence they can get the job done.”
The defense needs the offense.
“The offense has to take care of the defense and let it grow,” Pinyan said. “We can’t give it a short field.”
That should be no problem for an offense that rushed for a whopping 4,793 yards last season. Salisbury has exceptional talent and the Hornets are walking around with heads held high. They’re confident.
“We’re supposed to walk around with that demeanor,” Pinyan said. “We’ve reached a point where even the community expects us to have a walk like that.”
But he also wants his team to be realistic.
“This team could play a while,” he said. “It could also lay an egg. There are 5, 6 college football players out there. But talent doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do something with it.”