The Chase Trojans had over 70 players come out for preseason practice, but as the season approaches, that number is down to 35.
That fact doesn’t seem to worry coach Daniel Bailey, however.
“We don’t have a large quantity of players coming back, but they are quality players,” Bailiey said. “The small roster wasn’t a complete surprise, so everybody has been preparing to go both ways. They will be tired by the end of the night, but with the experience we have coming back, I’m not really worried.”
Much of that returning experience resides on the offensive side of the ball.
Josh Wright, a 1,000-yard rusher, is back for his senior season, while classmate Jordan O’Rourke will flank him on the wing. Quarterback Tyrell Boykins is only a junior, but boasts two years experience on the varsity level. All three players will be in a backfield protected by four seniors on the offensive line.
“Our offense is definitely our strength this year,” Bailey said. “Anytime you have a quarterback, fullback, and wingback returning in a triple option offense, you are in good shape. The best thing about experience is that we can make good reads and make adjustments during the game. The line is also a key, because they have been playing together for four years as a unit. When coaches tell them to adjust their blocking schemes, we can trust them to execute it.”
Defense is much less settled. Gone are Carlos and Trey Watkins who anchored the unit for the past five seasons. In their place come athletic, but inexperienced players who will be forced to play on both sides of the ball.
“We have been spoiled over the years with Carlos and Trey,” said Bailey. “This year our front seven may struggle a little because of inexperience. They are veteran players, but for the last several years, these guys have been exclusively on offense. This year they are going to have to play both ways. It’s going to be a challenge.”
According to defensive tackle Chandler Casner, the challenge is more than physical.
“Our biggest obstacle is more mental right now,” he said. “With the numbers we have, everybody on the line is going to have to play ever single play without a break. That’s a tough thing to wrap your mind around.”
The most vital phase of the game for Chase in 2013 may be special teams. The Trojans dropped three games last season by three points or less and hope the improved leg of Omar Jimenez will flip those results.
“If we had won those games, we would have been at least 8-4, instead of 5-7 and the season would have been totally different,” said Bailey. "Omar is a soccer player who has worked hard over the offseason to improve. I’ve seen him hit 50-yard (field goals) this year, but he is consistent at about 38-40 yards. I think he will win us a game or two this year. I’m excited about what our special teams can do.”
Offense, defense, and special teams will have to come together for the Trojans to find success against a tough schedule that includes Cleveland County powerhouses Crest, Burns, Kings Mountain, and Shelby.
“Our goal has been and will always be to win every ball game, including the state championship,” said Bailey. “We have smaller goals throughout the season, like representing Rutherford County well against Cleveland County and making the playoffs. I think our biggest goal though is taking one day at a time. Our ultimate goal is a state championship, but we can’t get there without taking small steps and that first step is our game against Newton Conover.”