DOBSON — One year after a record-setting season for Surry Central football, everything that had gone right the year before seemed to go wrong for the Golden Eagles in 2017.
Now head coach Monty Southern and his staff are hopeful that a team filled with newcomers to varsity football can come together quickly and lead Central back to the 2A state playoffs after a one-year absence.
“A big goal we have is that we would like to qualify for the state playoffs,” said Southern, whose team skidded to a 2-9 record last season after being 11-2 in 2016. “We may take some lumps early on because of the inexperience level, but we’re hopeful that the team will come together quickly.
“This year’s seniors missed out last year. A lot of them had come up at the end of the (2016) season and been part of that team, and they’d like to get back to the playoffs this year.”
For the second year in a row, the Golden Eagles have experience in one aspect of the team but are breaking in a lot of new faces in another. Last fall, Central had veterans on the offensive and defensive lines, but had lost nearly all of the skill position players who had helped lift the Eagles to a conference title the year before. This season, it’s the other way around. The skill players who took their lumps in ‘17 are back and improved, but they’ll be depending on a new group of teammates up front.
“We have one senior offensive lineman, but he’s in the concussion protocol right now,” said Southern. “Everyone else is a junior. One of them played half of a varsity season last year, but the rest of the kids are coming up from the JV. This year’s senior class just didn’t have a lot of offensive linemen, so our JV’s are going to have to grow up pretty fast.”
The inexperience showed in Central’s preseason scrimmages. The Eagles scrimmages with Ashe County on Wednesday, Aug. 8 and on a big stage against Oak Grove at Wake Forest’s BB&T Field two days later, and struggled to move the ball offensively, although they showed improvement in the second scrimmage.
“We were just totally overwhelmed on Wednesday,” said Southern. “We saw some positives and some improvement on Saturday. We saw some things we need to improve, and we’re glad we have a full week to prepare for our first game on (Aug. 17).”
There are a handful of experienced players that Central can hang its hat on, and who can lead the team to victories if the younger players can step up and hold their own in varsity football.
One of them is the player who was perhaps the most missed when the Eagles were scrimmaging Oak Grove, 6’2’, 290-pound senior Noah Nix. Nix, a second-year varsity offensive lineman, is expected to offer stability and leadership to the inexperienced unit, but suffered a concussion in the preseason and wasn’t cleared in time to play against Oak Grove.
“He’s a senior with experience, and we’re counting on him to anchor the offensive line,” said Southern.
Among the players in the mix on the offensive and defensive lines, along with Nix, are juniors Troy Castro, Isaiah Cave, David Lara, Kolton Quesinberry, and Derrick Carter; sophomores Steven Campbell and Matthew Payne; and seniors Juan Siete and Misael Rodriguez, neither of whom played offense for Central last fall.
In the offensive backfield, junior Maisen Holt (5’10, 155) shared time at quarterback last year with departed senior Martin Palacios. This season, Holt will have the job all to himself. He’ll have a proven weapon alongside him in the backfield in running back Ryan Martin, who took over the role last year when Palacios started working at quarterback, and had several strong performances.
“Ryan has had that role his whole career,” said Southern. “He was the starting running back and a focal point on the offense in JV and then has taken that role on the varsity.”
As with most of the schools in the area, Central will have a number of players going both ways, although the team has fairly strong numbers out for football this season. The defensive side of the ball, as with the offense, will depend heavily on the newcomers to the line maturing into their new roles on the varsity team quickly.
The conference race should be interesting. After being dominated for several years by Carver, the past three seasons have seen a senior-laden team ride its experience to stun the league and claim the conference title, with West Stokes, then Central, and finally North Surry last year doing the honors. West Stokes is the preseason favorite, but the WPAC race has been anything but predictable of late.
No one’s talking about the Golden Eagles, but the same thing was true two years ago, as well. This time around, Southern isn’t talking about stunning everyone with a conference title, but he does think the team can make a run at the state playoffs.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.