East Rowan preview
GRANITE QUARRY — It is truly a new day for East Rowan football and if you like 3 yards and a cloud of dust don’t even bother to travel down to Mustang country. Likewise if you want your football coaches to be stoic and low-key you won’t like East’s new head man.
The 2014 Mustangs return the bulk of their offensive weapons from last season and boast a lot of experienced senior leadership on both sides of the ball. But it’s also the beginning of the Kenneth McClamrock era at East so expect a lot of changes, a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion.
“Football is a game of passion,” says McClamrock, 32, as he embarks on his first ever head coaching journey. “You have to practice with passion and you have to play with passion. As coaches we want to get after the kids to approach the game that way.”
With McClamrock, don’t expect stone faces like Tom Landry or Bill Belichick on the sideline or the practice field. Expect a high-energy whirling dervish with lots of jumping up and down, lots of arm-waving, and lots of reinforcement, both positive and negative.
He seems to be converting his team to his approach to the game of football.
McClamrock has been an assistant coach for the past 11 seasons at North Mecklenburg and then under Coach Glen Padgett at Concord. Now he has his own team at East and is ready for the challenge.
“Head coaching wise, being the top man is different, but football is football,” he says. “There was some adjustment on my end early on but all the kids have bought in, all the coaches have bought in and everybody is working their butts off.”
The Mustangs are coming off a 4-8 campaign in 2013 that included a first-round playoff loss to Free dom. But they have 20-plus seniors returning to lead a resurgence, including quarterback Sam Wyrick, his top receivers in Seth Wyrick and Simon Soles; runners Jake Boltz, Max Wall and Tre Gillespie, and offensive line studs Daniel Jones and Sawyer Kimmer. On the defensive side, linebacker Shiheem Saunders, tackle Robert Barringer and free safety Willie McCree all return with a strong supporting cast.
This is the 56th season for East Rowan and McClamrock is the 21st coach in the team’s history. The problem is that in the past decade the program has been through eight coaches so this is a program looking for stability. McClamrock seems to have a big-picture vision.
“We don’t talk about winning football games although we do have goals,” he says. “But we do talk about building a foundation that will far outlast any players in this locker room and any coaches on this staff. We have long-term goals and are taking the steps to get to that point. Seasons come and seasons go, but good programs will last a long time.”
The cupboard is definitely not bare for the first season under the new coach, especially on offense. When asked to describe his offensive scheme, the new head coach just grins and notes it will involve running the ball and passing the ball. Expect it to be a wide open option attack with lots of different looks.
East has depth at running back and receiver and of course East has an all-county quarterback in Sam Wyrick. In two varsity seasons, he has proven to be a dual threat with 3,782 career total yards, 36 touchdown passes and 11 rushing TD’s. His 2013 season produced school records for passing yards (1,766) and total offense (2,176). He will be operating a new offensive scheme under McClamrock but that is okay with him. It’s not about personal statistics.
“Honestly at the end of the day my goals are all good team goals and good team wins,” Wyrick says of his pending senior season. “I love the new coaching style. It fits our offense well, plus our defense is doing well too. We are getting set for a good year.”
McClamrock is high on his quarterback as expected. “Sam has a quick release and he has picked up our offense extremely quickly.” He notes. “We expect him to be a coach on the field when he is out there.”
Sophomore Tate Houpe, up from the JVs will provide the Mustangs with a solid backup at quarterback.
The running attack will feature productive returnees in senior Boltz (648 yards and 5 TDs last season), dual-threat sophomore Wall (619 yards, 4 TDs) who also passed for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Gillespie had 115 yards and four TDs last year before an injury ended his season four games in, but he will be counted on heavily as will sophomore Keith Tillman.
The receiving corps is led by senior Seth Wyrick, Sam’s fraternal twin, who just missed 1000 yards last season but set a school record with 66 catches. He has 1,326 career receiving yards and 17 TDs. “Seth is a kid who is pushing our offense to be better and his ability is pushing our defense to be better also,” McClamrock says.
Senior Chandler Smith returns at wide receiver, along with junior Bryson Johnson and sophomore Steven Hardin. Also in the group are varsity newcomers Naquis Caldwell and Austin Wyse, both juniors who excel at basketball for the Mustangs. At tight end, veteran senior Soles is back as both a blocking and receiving threat. He will be backed up by junior Connor Kyles.
“Simon Soles has been an incredible leader for us so far,” McClamrock says. “He is a vocal leader and a work-ethic leader.”
McClamrock points to senior guard Daniel Jones (6-0, 300) as the anchor and leader of the offensive line. “We are only going to be as good as our offensive line is,” he notes. “And the offensive line is only going to be a good as Daniel Jones is. He is one of the top 100 senior offensive linemen in the state and he could end up being the best offensive lineman I have ever coached.”
Jones will be joined at guard by sophomore Baxter Ketchie, while the tackles feature junior Kimmer (6-5, 275), sophomore Jake Gregory and senior Caleb Johnson.
Senior Grant Hoffner and junior Vincent Spillman provide more depth as the Mustangs want all of their linemen to be able to play either tackle or either guard slot. At center, East returns senior Steven Wood to handle all of the snapping duties. The Mustang defense will be a 3-3 scheme with three down linemen, three safeties and five linebackers/corners across the middle. “We are loading up at linebacker and all of those guys are headhunters,” McClamrock says.
Leading the linebacker corps is the senior Saunders who was second on the team with 88 tackles last season. Joining him will be inside linebacker Bryant Godsey (40 tackles), junior Trevor L’Hommideau, and junior Daniel Muncy.
Running back Boltz is expected to play a key role at linebacker this season as well.
“Jake is a kid who is quick and smart and has bulked up over the summer,” McClamrock says. “We feel comfortable playing him at multiple positions on both sides of the football this season.”
Providing depth at the linebacker position will be senior Luke Miller and a trio of sophomores in Chase Fritz, Josh Beaver and Lee Sharum.
On the defensive front, senior Barringer (57 tackles and five fumble recoveries) is the anchor along with nose guard Dakota Hartsell and senior tackle Cody Hiatt. Senior Zach Flannery, junior Jacob Mishak and sophomore Norman Kelly will also see time.
Senior free safety McCree leads the defensive backs, while the addition of junior Wesley Porter who had 10 interceptions last season as a JV will be a big boost.
Wall will also come over from offense to play safety as will Tillman, while junior Datavian Davis, another basketball standout, has joined the football ranks this season. Providing depth are senior Drew Peeples and juniors Dustin Humphrey and Roderick Holland.
The kicking game is solid with the return of veteran Salvador Sanchez who notched 35 of 43 PATs last year and made three field goals, including a 37-yarder. He will handle all placekicking and kickoff duties and probably punting chores as well.
As for the coaching staff, McClamrock will handle the offensive coordinator duties, while the new defensive coordinator at East is John Fitz, a former J.M. Robinson and Catawba coach. Barry Justus will coach wide receivers as will Brett Hatley who is also JV offensive coordinator. Veteran coach and former principal Kelly Sparger is working with defensive backs while Roland Fowler is coaching the defensive line.
Chase Burris is a linebacker coach and JV defensive coordinator. Shane Collins is working with the linebackers and defensive line, and Hunter Cannon is working with the quarterbacks.
The Mustangs will open their 2014 season on the road with non-conference games at North Rowan and Salisbury followed by a bye week. They will then dive headlong into the tough South Piedmont conference season beginning at home with Cox Mill on Sept. 12. They play 3A Ledford in a non-conference endowment game on October 24.
As he begins his first season at East, McClamrock cites two key things he is grateful for: the support of the Mustang community and the support of his wife Maggie.
“The East Rowan community has been awesome to me,” he says. “The community has been as welcoming as I had hoped they would be and they have been as awesome as I had hoped that they were.”
As for his wife of 11 years, Maggie, McClamrock hopes she can get to as many games as possible. They are the parents of 14 month old twin sons that appropriately occupies a lot of his wife’s time.
“My wife is a great lady,” he says. “With two boys at home and a head football coach husband it is very tough on her. She has the patience of Jobe and I am grateful she allows me to do this.”
McClamrock is looking forward to the challenge of his first head-coaching season.
“We are going to have some fun,” he says. “The kids are having fun and buying into our system and buying into our expectations. They want to be good.”