Preview: Veteran Eagles set to begin Hanner era
In 2012, East Davidson High School made a surprising change, abandoning its traditional rushing attack for an aerial assault. Another sudden change in the offseason now has many wondering if what had become known as “Air Lingerfelt” will return for a second year.
According to new head coach Vance Hanner, the Golden Eagles will still keep the ball in the air, but there will be a lot more rushing mixed in. East went 3-8 last year during its aerial campaign, just coming up short of a playoff berth.
“We are going to try and be a little more balanced,” said Hanner, who takes over for Bryan Lingerfelt after his departure to take the head job at West Davidson. “In order for East to be successful we have got to be physical. We have the makeup on both lines to be physical. But against good football teams we have got to throw it to have a chance.”
How effective the passing game might be this year will depend on the experiences and lessons quarterback Austin Wallace learned in a season that had highs and lows. Though putting up big yardage numbers, Wallace, now a junior, had trouble keeping the ball out of the hands of the defense. He had two good receivers to catch the ball in 2012, but both have graduated, leaving a few question marks in how efficient the Eagles can be through the air. Stepping in will be senior Justin Wood, senior Kelvin Pena and junior Nick Bolen.
“Austin is the most improved kid on the team and has worked harder than anybody,” Hanner said. “He was not happy with his 28 interceptions last year, so he has worked hard and has gotten bigger, faster and stronger.”
If the offense is to be balanced, that requires a rushing game that can effectively move the chains. East struggled to make positive gains on the ground, but two backs return that have experience toting the ball. Michael Ramos will serve as the tailback, using his 6-0, 205-pound frame to drive through the line. An all-conference selection, Ramos is not the fastest guy on the field, but he is versatile and plays with heart. Beside him in the backfield is fullback Bryce Bolen (5-10, 185), a hard runner and solid blocker.
Experience will run deep on the offensive line. All five guys who will see significant playing time are returning players. Brett Fuller (5-10, 270) leads the group after putting up all-conference numbers. The left guard is Damian Williams (6-4, 260); left tackle, Connor Blair (6-1, 205); right guard, Dillon Brady (6-1, 260); and right tackle Grant Draughn (5-10, 190).
Andrew Hoosier and Salvador Pecina will do the kicking.
Though the defense gave up 37 points a night last season, Hanner is excited to bring back nine guys that started. None more recognizable than gifted senior linebacker Nathan Campbell. His talents run deep and his hits are hard. Recording 170 tackles as a junior and earning all-conference accolades, Campbell is the verbal leader the East defense needs. He will be used on offense quite a bit as well.
“If you find him on the offensive side of the ball do not be too surprised,” said Hanner. “Wherever you put him he is the best player on the field. If we can keep people off of him he is going to make every tackle on the field.”
His teammate at the other inside position is pretty good as well. Converted from a quarterback, Toby Craven can pack a serious punch on his hits and is a smart player. Bryce Bolen will back them up.
Tyler Rhodes is the lead outside linebacker, while Lezter Garcia, Drake Holbrook and Gage Love man the secondary.
Up front in the trenches will be inside linemen David Lomax (5-9, 190) and Logan Goad (6-3, 320). Deven Hadsock (6-5, 230) also will see time on the line. At the end positions will be Zack Brown (6-0, 230) and Cody Bowers (6-2, 215).
Best of all for Hanner, he will not have to play many guys on both sides of the ball. Larger numbers have given the Eagles depth they have missed for quite some time. They have experience as well.
“It helps when you do not have kids going both ways,” said Hanner. “We have good numbers and that is where it needs to be for us to be successful. We have a veteran group that knows how to play ball. That makes things easy on me.”
East had only one win to its credit in the Central Carolina Conference last year. Gone is Central Davidson with North Rowan rejoining the league. Hanner expects North Rowan and Thomasville to be very competitive.
“It is a brutal conference. Thomasville is always going to be at the top and I have heard a lot about North Rowan. I believe the rest of us will be fighting for spots after those two.”
East opens at South Davidson Friday.
Sports Editor Zach Kepley can be reached at 888-3631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.