Football edition: Davie County football previews

Published 7:30 am Tuesday, August 21, 2018

By Brian Pitts

For the Salisbury Post

MOCKSVILLE — The War Eagles enjoyed a superb 2016 season (12-2, CPC champions, 4A quarterfinals), followed by a season that was less superb (5-7, fourth-place, first-round exit).

If you put heavy stock in senior starters, there isn’t much reason to believe a quick turnaround is in the cards in 2018.
The War Eagles may not have a senior starter on offense. Half of the starters on defense could be sophomores and juniors.
But opponents can underestimate Davie at their own peril. Head coach Tim Devericks and his staff are good at taking what they have and wringing the most from it. The War Eagles have a real chance to be a dark horse in 2018.

And their future is bright and shiny.
Devericks: “We’ve always been at least half seniors (starting on offense). For whatever reason, this senior class was very thin with offensive skill people and offensive linemen. The good thing is, Evan (Little) and Jack (Reynolds) are second-year starters; Ben Crenshaw is fitting in really nice; and you’ve got three offensive linemen (Owen Brown, Tanner Batten and Grant Copeland) who started on varsity last year.”
Once again, Davie has a daunting non-conference schedule. Page (35-28 opening-night loss) was ranked No. 6 in 4-A in the’s preseason power rankings. North Davidson is No. 3 in 2-A. A.L. Brown is No. 15 in 3-A. And then there’s conference rivals East Forsyth (No. 7) and West Forsyth (No. 15) that are ranked.
“I think it’s great for our kids to know that every game is big, and playing tough competition is only going to make you better,” said Devericks. “It’s also sort of a life lesson that every day is going to be tough as well.”

Davie’s new starting quarterback is a rare specimen. Nate Hampton was 6-5 last year as a freshman, he’s 6-5 1/2 now and he might be 6-6 by the season opener.
“Every time I see him, I feel like I’m looking up higher,” offensive coordinator Matt Gould said. “He’s a legitimate 6-5. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, too. He takes (his workouts) serious.”
Hampton is expected to be one of the next big things for Davie football.
Even though 2017 was his first year of ever playing QB, he showed loads of promise on the JV team. He completed 91 of 199 passes for 1,192 yards as the jayvees won three of the last four games to square their record at 5-5.
Yes, he’s ready to be a foundation piece for 2018, 2019 and 2020. But there should be caution because he’s still raw. He’s completely untested on the varsity level.
Coaches will follow the sophomore’s progress patiently, but his terrific offseason has drawn glowing praise from Gould and Devericks. He probably has a football in his hands right now.
Gould: “Man, it’s been a huge difference from the end of last year until the end of summer now. You can tell he’s progressed. He’s gotten a lot more comfortable. He’s going through his reads faster and making better throws. He’s more decisive. He’s had a huge spring and summer.”
Devericks: “Pre-snap confidence. He’s able to have a plan of what he’s supposed to do with the ball at pre-snap based on what he’s seeing. He spent a lot of time in the spring with me, watching past game films. He’s incorporated that into his pre-snap reads. Obviously, he’s got all the physical tools to throw the ball all over the yard, but the mental game is where I’ve seen him really improve.”
Devericks wants Hampton to make plays mostly with his arm, but he can also move the sticks with his feet and a lowered shoulder.
Gould: “He’s an excellent passer, but if he needs to, he can definitely run it. He moves around the pocket really well.”
Devericks: “He’s not going to run a 4.4, but he’s a very capable  athlete. He’s not just a standstill quarterback. We’re going to try to move him around and make him a run threat as well.”
If Hampton hits a rough patch or gets banged up, Davie will turn to senior newcomer Kellen May. From Illinois, an ACL injury erased his freshman year. He played for the Fisher Bunnies (Fisher, Il.) as a sophomore. His family moved to Salisbury right before his junior year, but he didn’t play for the Hornets. His transfer to Davie for his senior year was triggered by his father Lenny, who was hired as a Davie teacher/assistant football coach. Kellen has jumped at the chance to learn two positions.
Gould: “Kellen came in this summer, and he’s been working quarterback and a little bit of receiver. He’s a pretty good athlete — good enough to where we trust him to do the backup-quarterback stuff and also play receiver. We’re pretty excited about him, thinking he can help us. He’s a great kid and hard worker.”

Josh Robinson ran into wall after wall during the first seven games of 2017, his highs being 12 carries and 54 yards. He gained traction at West Forsyth on Oct. 13, running 12 times for 88 yards in a hard-fought 20-17 loss. He continued to turn heads down the stretch, rushing for 111 yards and representing the bright spot in a 35-7 loss at East Forsyth and rumbling for 147 in a 37-14 home win over Reagan.
The drastic improvement left Robinson as Davie’s top rusher with 569 yards on 127 carries and created the likelihood of a rising star in 2018. Remember, he showed that promise as a sophomore.
“He kept getting stronger at the end of last year,” offensive coordinator Gould said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster. He looks really good.”
“Josh has put tremendous work into this offseason,” head coach Tim Devericks said. “He has not only put on some good weight, he’s worked on speed and agility. He’s made some cuts that last year he wouldn’t have made. His vision has improved tremendously. Josh is going to give you everything he has, and he’s done a fantastic job so far.”
While Robinson brings a more punishing style, a grizzled junior, Adrian Cranfill, can provide a change of pace when Robinson is resting. Cranfill flashed some magic as a varsity freshman, rushing for 650 yards on 139 carries to help Davie march to 12 wins and the state quarterfinals. The ground game struggled most of ‘17, and Cranfill didn’t dazzle (55 carries, 198 yards). Look for him to come back with a vengeance.
“He’s a shiftier guy,” Gould said. “He does a good job of making one cut and hitting the hole. He’s another hard worker. He shows up every day. He’s always the first one in line to do a drill.”
Like several of Davie’s running backs/wide receivers, Cranfill is repping at both positions to develop quality depth.
“Adrian’s doing a hybrid role,” Gould said. “We want to get him on the field more and get him the ball because he’s one of the more explosive athletes we have.”
Mason Wilson and Cooper Wall were pass-catching marvels who graduated in June. Davie is counting on a strong committee of receivers to ease the loss of two guys who combined for 72 catches, 1,239 yards and 11 TDs.
Jack Reynolds was not an awe-struck freshman in ‘17. In the season opener against Page, in the first game in Davie’s new stadium, he hauled in a 25-yard TD a mere three minutes, 10 seconds in. Three of his eight grabs for the year resulted in six points. Despite being 5-9 and 155, he loves returning punts and has an uncanny sense for the game.
“We love Jack,” Gould said. “He’s just a football player. I mean he’s tough as can be. He’ll go over the middle and catch passes. He just knows how to get open. No matter what route we call, he finds a way to get open.”
“His route-running is some of the best. I would put it up against people all over the area,” Devericks said.
Evan Little, who paid his dues as a varsity sophomore (nine catches for 135 yards), is a big part of the ‘18 plans.
“I think he can help stretch the defense,” Gould said. “He’s shown a lot of improvement. We believe he can win the one-on-one matchups outside against the corner.”
“He’s a good route-runner, has tremendous hands and great open-field speed,” Devericks said.
In 2012 Davie featured a frightening force of nature by the name of Cade Carney. He staged the finest freshman season in the annals with 1,908 rushing yards and 17 TDs, and his three-year Davie run saw him claim second in career rushing yards (3,815) and a tie for second in career TDs (43).
A 2018 freshman’s skills remind coaches of — you guessed it — Cade. Enter “little” brother Tate Carney. Like Cade, he’s a physical specimen. Cade, a junior running back and a team captain at Wake Forest, was 5-10, 175 as a Davie freshman. Tate, who is working at WR and RB, checks in at 5-11, 190.
“With the pads and helmet on, you don’t even know he’s a freshman,” Gould said. “He came in and learned the offense right away. He doesn’t make many mistakes like a lot of freshmen. I mean he stepped in from day one. He came out and watched our spring practices. He wanted to see what we were doing. On day one, he was writing down everything and came back day two and knew the whole offense and was ready to roll. He’s super smart and a great kid, too. He’s already become a leader as well.”
While Little and Reynolds are all but locked in at two receiver spots, sophomore Ben Crenshaw and Cranfill are competing at one slot and junior Zach Smith and Carney are battling at the other. Junior Anthony Deters is an option at all four spots.
Crenshaw will be ready to step in when called upon, Gould said.
“Ben has had big plays in the spring and summer. He’s another guy who can find a way to get open. Him and Jack are really similar. Ben, Jack and (quarterback Nate Hampton) have a good rapport.Ben can make a move and get open, and Nate’s already got the ball in the air because he trusts Ben. … Last year Adrian did a little bit of (receiver). He caught a big (27-yard) touchdown (in a 42-20 win at West Rowan).”
Gould likes what Smith and Deters offer.
“Zach is a huge target (at 6-3, 180). He can work the middle of the field. He has worked all spring and summer. We can move him down inside and gain an extra blocker as well.
“Deters can actually play any of the receiver positions. He is super fast. He made some big plays on JV last year. He pushes the other guys and makes them better.”
Devericks feels good about the receivers as a whole. “We’ve got some weapons,” he said.
“I think Nate feels comfortable with all of them,” Gould added. “He’s not looking to throw it to one guy. He likes to spread it around.”
Crenshaw is among the versatile weapons seeing time at WR/RB. If the need arises, Davie could always slide senior Peyton Hampton to RB. He’s playing a new role as a senior (inside linebacker), but he’s quite experienced at carrying the mail (319 carries for 1,331 yards and 22 TDs from 2015-17).
P. Hampton committed to Army “after having offers from a bunch of Ivy League schools,” Gould said. “He’s so smart that if something were to happen he could always step in at running back. … They all rotate around. Some kids can’t mentally handle it and they need to stay in one spot. These kids have been able to absorb two or three positions to build depth – and quality depth – quickly.”
It’s a little scary to approach matchups with Page and North Davidson — not to mention the 4-A monsters that Davie will face in the conference — without a seasoned senior on the offensive line.
But Davie’s coaches don’t seem uneasy. Juniors Owen Brown, Tanner Batten and Grant Copeland were all starters in 2017, so they’ve been through the fire before. Furthermore, the depth around that trio looks OK.
“That gives us a good foundation,” offensive coordinator Matt Gould said of Brown, Batten and Copeland. “I think we’ll be alright up front.”
“At the beginning of the spring, I was really worried about it,” head coach Tim Devericks said. “With OL, it just takes time to jell. Within the last two weeks (in late July), I’ve seen us improve tremendously. The depth there is pretty good.”
“I guess it’s just a blessing that I coach offensive line because I don’t have knuckleheads,” Jimmie Welch said. “They’re all good kids. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys get better. I think there’s a lot of room to improve, and I think these guys are up to the challenge.”
Batten (6-1, 280 at left guard), Brown (6-0, 270 at right guard) and Copeland (6-3, 265 at center) are the unquestioned backbones in the trenches. Batten practices and works out as if he’s trying to make the varsity.
“If you were to ask Tanner to go run every day for the next month, you could tell him one time and it would be done,” Welch said. “And you would never have to question whether he was doing it. So he’s very dependable and very mature beyond his years. When he told me he was headed to the beach, I said: ‘Make sure you take a jump rope with you and jump rope every day for five minutes.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that he did that every day.”
Brown and Copeland earned high praise as well.
“Owen is a thick young man,” Welch said. “He has a lot of versatility. He can play almost every position on the line. Owen is a hard-nosed dude. Owen and Tanner are quiet leaders; they lead by example more than any communication.
“Grant is a big kid. He’s humble and willing to help other guys. He’s continuously trying to learn the craft of playing offensive line and always wants to work to get better.”
Junior tackle Jared Simpson (6-1, 260) has earned starter consideration at a tackle.
Gould: “Jared has stepped up for us. As soon as the (2017 JV) season was over, he hit the weight room and got a lot stronger.”
Welch: “I’m looking for Jared to contribute regularly. He’s completely become a stronger kid. He’s another mature young man. He’s a hard-nosed kid, too.”
Remember this name – Camden Beck. As a 6-0, 230-pound freshman, he’s a remarkable combination of size and athleticism – athletic enough that he plays basketball, which is not something you hear everyday when discussing linemen. Last year he helped the Ellis Middle basketball team go undefeated, scoring 16 points and draining four 3-pointers in one game. He’s a probable starter at a tackle as freshmen are not brought up to warm the bench.
Gould: “He’s done nothing but work hard.”
Devericks: “He’s a kid who gives everything on every play. He’s a great fit (at tackle). He can physically handle it.”
Junior Paul Pollard (5-11, 260) is also in the mix on a crowded OL. There’s plenty of competition with 11 guys vying for five spots.
Welch: “We’ll see about the other positions. It’s up in the air, but we’ve got some promising kids.”

If there’s a flaw in Davie’s secondary, it could be that there’s only one senior among eight cornerbacks and safeties. The key word is “if.” There is ample talent.
“We are young but very talented,” head coach Tim Devericks said.
“The secondary is going to be a good bit better (than last year),” defensive coordinator/linebackers coach David Hunt said.
“I’m really, really excited about the depth of the secondary,” DBs coach Blaine Nicholson said.
Hunter Meacham, who made 56 tackles as a sophomore at outside linebacker, is going from complementary player to a cornerstone as a junior. The CPC is going to know his name at strong safety.
Devericks: “Hunter’s a great kid and a hard worker. What I love most about Hunter is he loves to compete. His athleticism, long arms and speed are tremendous assets for us.”
Nicholson: “Hunter is one of the top athletes we have on the team. Man, he’s so athletically gifted. He has a nose for the ball in run situations and his closing speed is unreal. He was very comfortable at outside linebacker, but we’re trying to get him where he can play in more space. He flies around. In a 20-yard spot, he can run with pretty much anybody. He’s very physical. If you catch a ball over the middle, he’s going to have no qualms about making it a tough catch for you.”
Junior Justice Redmon and sophomores Kristian Lyons and Justus Tatum will form a potentially devastating combination as cornerbacks. Junior Winn Fuller is another CB. Nicholson is expecting big-time contributions from Redmon after he missed the first seven games of his varsity sophomore season with an injury.
Nicholson: “You talk about a guy who has the speed and the length. He’s starting to bulk up as well. He’s a prototypical corner. He’s just got to put it all together technique-wise. He could blow up and be one of those guys who has a chance to play at a pretty high level. I expect him to lead.”
The battle at the opposite corner has people buzzing.
Nicholson: “We’ve actually got a great problem. We have two really, really, really good corners who are battling for a spot.”
One of them is Lyons, who was a JV running back in 2017.
Nicholson: “We thought we needed to get him on the field somewhere else, and he rose to the challenge of playing corner. He’s one of the guys that doesn’t miss an offseason workout. I think he’s going to do really well.”
Hunt: “Kristian has really come on. I am really pleased with him. He’s going to be a real good corner. He’s going to be the best corner we’ve had around here in 6-7 years.”
Tatum offers great promise, too.
Nicholson: “Justus has sneaky athleticism. If you run him and the rest of the DBs in a straight line, he’s not going to finish in the top five out of the 15 or 16 I have. But man, he finds a way to get his hands on the ball and stick to his receiver. I watch film of him almost every day, and I don’t understand how he does it. He’s just got a knack for the ball. He’s had the most PBUs (pass break-ups) over the offseason. Nate (Hampton, the quarterback) has constantly complimented him: ‘Man, I really didn’t think he was going to get to that ball and he did.’
“Not much experience, but I have three really, really athletic and talented corners.”
Junior Isaiah Cuthrell has turned heads at free safety.
Nicholson: “Last year he came on really strong for us on JV, and he has really, really developed physically. A lot of people aren’t going to recognize him. He’s big, strong and fast. He’s pretty physical as well.”
Gage Recktenwald, a savvy sophomore, is going to see time at strong safety. Senior Ryan Smith can jump in at either safety spot.
Nicholson: “Gage has gotten a lot of really good reps. He’s definitely going to see a lot of time on the field whether he wins the strong safety spot or not. He’s very athletic and a ball-hawker. He seems to always be around the ball.
“Ryan is more of a man-to-man specialist. He’s really good in his transitions, and he’s also a very good run defender.”
Davie has holes to patch on defense – it’s having to replace one of the greatest linebackers in program history in Cody Hendrix, and depth is thin in the trenches – but coordinator David Hunt isn’t singing the blues too bad. That’s a good sign because the 43rd-year football coach is a straight shooter.
“As a group, we’re going to probably be as good, maybe a little better, than last year – depending on whether or not we get a little more leadership out of the inside ‘backers,” Hunt said.
“We have a lot of team speed,” secondary coach Blaine Nicholson said. “Even our stand-up rush ends are really fast.”
Hendrix, the career leader in tackles, has passed the torch to senior Matthew King. That’s a tough act to follow at an inside linebacker, but no one will be shocked if King explodes as a senior. After all, he’s a proven playmaker after making 101 tackles in 2017.
“He worked closely with Cody last year, and he is stepping up in the role of being vocal and knowing everything that’s going on on the defense,” head coach Tim Devericks said of Davie’s top returning tackler.
“We’ve had a staple there for a long time (with James Boyle and Hendrix, the 1-2 career tacklers for Davie), but Matt is not to be overlooked,” Nicholson said. “He’s going to be the guy who gets the defense lined up right. He’s a smart and articulate fella, and he flies around. He’s going to be able to go sideline to sideline.”
“Matt’s never going to be the rah-rah, jump-up-and-down, foam-at-the-mouth, blow-snot-on-his-chest guy,” Hunt said. “He can lead by example: ‘Come on, guys. Let’s go,’ kind of thing.”
After rushing for 1,331 yards and 22 touchdowns from 2015-17, senior Peyton Hampton has moved over from running back to ease concerns in the heart of the defense. The Army West Point commit will play a prominent role at the other inside linebacker spot, and he could slide to outside LB some, too. Smart as all get-out, he turned down offers from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Colgate and Brown.
“He’s going to do big things at linebacker,” Devericks said. “It’s been a learning curve, and he knew that going in. But looking at the next level, that’s where he’s going to be, and I think it’s going to be a good fit for us.”
“He’s going to add some speed to the linebacker spot that we didn’t have last year,” Hunt said. “If he comes on and does what his body is capable of doing, we’re fine.”
Davie has some serious space-eaters up front. Ronald “Ron Jon” Wilson (6-2, 330), Ben Norman (6-2, 345) and Bishop Norman (6-2, 340) look padded even when they’re padless. Wilson, a fourth-year varsity player, has a ton of talent. But after missing six games over the past two years because of injuries, the War Eagles need him to play a ton of minutes.
“We’ve got to make him an every-down player, not just three or four plays,” Devericks said. “It’s got to be 10 in a row, and it’s got to be the same intensity. He’s capable of drawing double-teams on every play. They’ve got to know where No. 78’s at.”
“Ron Jon should be a dominant force,” Hunt said.
In senior d-lineman Andy Flores (6-0, 280), coaches are watching a transformation from 2017 backup to stabilizing force in 2018.
“Everyone sees Ronald, but Andy has really stepped up into a leadership role,” Devericks said. “Andy has a high motor and high intensity. He’s a kid who cares tremendously about it.”
“I think Andy is going to be real good for us,” Hunt said.
Devericks expects tackle/end Caleb Steele (6-2, 195) to be a key contributor as a sophomore.
“Caleb is probably going to be an edge guy,” he said. “His athleticism and long arms are going to be big for us. He’s done a lot of growing mentally. Physically, we always knew he had it. His athleticism and length are what you want in an edge rusher.”
How well the Norman twins and Alex Myers play as juniors will be critical because the DL’s depth is iffy. If the unit avoids injuries, jells and clogs holes, it will enable the linebackers to thrive. The twins played varsity as sophomores, so they know all about Friday night lights.
“The DL is going to be OK,” Hunt said. “We’re going to figure out a rotation as we go along.”
At outside linebacker, two jobs are up for grabs between seniors Damian Garcia and Logan Dingler; juniors Matt Hill and Samuel Hendrix; and sophomore Trevor Richardson. Garcia, Dingler and Richardson are options at inside or outside ‘backer.
Hendrix, who made 38 tackles as a sophomore DB on varsity, has brought relentless energy to his new position.
“Sam is hustling his tail off,” Hunt said of Cody’s cousin. “Sam can play well in space. He’s going to help us a good bit as an outside ‘backer.”
The coaches like what they’ve seen from the other four.
“Hill’s a great athlete,” Devericks said. “He’s done a tremendous job. As soon as he was done with track, he started working football. He’s a great student and great young man.”
“Damian’s super aggressive,” Nicholson said. “He’s very physical. He’s definitely going to set the tone.”
“Damian will play a rush-type position when we’re in a four-man front,” Hunt said.
“Logan will play a bunch,” Hunt said.
“We have the flexibility to bring Trevor on the inside and put Peyton’s athleticism on the outside,” Devericks said.