Whitewater preview

Tue, 08/26/2008 - 11:57am
By: Kevin Wandra

Change is inevitable, an old adage that the Whitewater Wildcats must face — and overcome — this season.

Whitewater reached the second round of the state playoffs last season, but 28 of its players from that team graduated, leaving the Wildcats with only six returning starters: offensive tackle Andrew Dean (6-0, 235), running back Thomas Frierson (5-11, 185), defensive end Thomas Richard (6-1, 200), outside linebacker Zac Mann (5-11, 193), free safety Jake Fisher (6-1, 175) and cornerback Jack Grove (6-0, 175).

Working in Whitewater’s favor, though, is a large senior class (33 total) that features a host of talent on both sides of the ball.

Whitewater coach Amos McCreary’s expectations remain the same as last season.

“We hope to reach the state playoffs again,” McCreary said. “From there, we hope for the best.”

A key factor in Whitewater’s playoff chances will be the play of first-year starting quarterback Chase Penland (5-11, 175). More of a runner than a passer, Penland, who received some playing time at quarterback last season, must show he can handle directing Whitewater’s Wing-T offense on a full-time basis.

“Chase is a very hard-nosed kid,” McCreary said. “He knows the system well.”

Backup quarterback Hayden Jordan (6-1, 215) should receive some snaps, as well.

Whitewater’s immensely talented backfield should take pressure off the inexperienced Penland.

Josh Clemons (5-11, 190), a sophomore, is one of the most highly touted underclassmen in the state. He has the speed — he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds — to turn the corner and blow past defenders in the open field and the toughness to run inside the tackles and consistently pick up positive yardage.

“He’s probably one of the better young running backs in the area, maybe even in the state,” McCreary said of Clemons. “He’s very talented. He can run over you or around you.”

Frierson also has exceptional speed and athleticism, providing Whitewater with a potent one-two punch at running back.
Chris Wingate (5-10, 180) is a hard-nosed fullback with good vision.

Another weapon for Whitewater in its backfield is Austin Faulkner (5-7, 165). Like Clemons, Faulkner runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. McCreary expects to utilize his speed by moving him all over the field, playing him at slotback, wingback and wide receiver.

“We probably have as fast a backfield as I’ve ever had,” McCreary said.

Whitewater’s offense is predicated on running the ball early and often, but when it does take to the air, it has three big targets: wide receivers Tyler Morgan (6-3, 190), a disciplined route runner with good hands, and Fisher and tight end Stefan Bynoe (6-3, 215).

Whitewater’s inexperienced offensive line, where Dean is the lone returning starter, must develop quickly for the Wildcats to exploit their talent at the skill positions.

Its starting offensive line is comprised of center Will Gray (6-1, 215), guards Robbie Grubbs (5-11, 190) and Brooks Oldham (6-1, 215) and tackles Taylor Halpin (6-2, 250) and Dean.

Two backups, guard David Hidalgo (6-0, 190) and tackle Jake Reese (6-3, 215), also will receive extensive playing time.

“We don’t have anybody overly athletic on our offensive line,” McCreary said, “but they are strong kids who can move a little bit. It’s a group that works well with each other. They are very smart; they have a combined GPA of 3.5.”

Whitewater’s defensive line also lacks experience. Size, too, is an issue with its defensive line.

“Our defensive line as a whole is small and inexperienced,” McCreary said. “We’ve got to get better at that position every week to be a good football team.”

Whitewater will be forced to play without its top defensive lineman, Richard, for the first few games. He broke a couple bones in his foot in the spring.

If Richard comes back at 100 percent, he gives Whitewater a defensive end who can anchor against the run and chase down quarterbacks.

Defensive tackles Ryan Nolan (6-2, 230) and Dean and defensive ends Michael Herget (6-1, 195) and Brandon Lee (6-0, 175) are the starters.

Defensive ends Chuck Servance (6-2, 205) and Bryan Newsome (6-0, 175) and defensive tackle Reese will spell Whitewater’s starters.

The heart and soul of Whitewater’s defense is its linebacker corps.

Mann is one of the top linebackers in Region 5A-AAAA. He is fast — he runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash — productive and has a nose for the ball; his 138 tackles were second on the team last season. Mann is a difference-maker against the run and in coverage.

“Zac is as good as anybody in the county,” McCreary said.

Middle linebacker Davis Knowles (6-1, 215), an on-and-off starter last year, and outside linebacker Blake Jaurigue (6-1, 195) are aggressive and close quickly on the ball.

Outside linebacker Clemons, middle linebacker J.T. Thomas (5-11, 205) and Clay Brooks (5-7, 175) are backups who are expected to receive playing time.

Whitewater’s secondary includes two athletic cornerbacks who are smooth in coverage, Grove and Frierson, and two safeties with good size and range, Fisher and Jeffrey Ashley (6-3, 170).

Herget will handle the kicking and punting duties, though Ryan Hurst (6-0, 170) could see time at punter.

Whitewater plays a brutal schedule; the first five teams it plays — Douglas County, Upson-Lee, Mays, Carrollton and Sandy Creek — made the playoffs last season, and the region in which it plays, 5A-AAAA, will be one of the state’s most competitive.

“We probably have as tough a schedule as anybody,” McCreary said. “There is no breathing room in there. But I like our chances as much as anybody else’s.”

Whitewater plays host to Douglas County on August 29 to open the season.

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