‘The team we’ve been waiting for’
Berkeley Head Football Coach Jeff Cruce got his first look at the team as the Stags wrapped up spring practice with the school’s annual spring game.
“These young kids will be seniors in the fall,” he said. “They’re coming of age. This is the team we’ve been waiting for. We have so many seniors this year we were able to expand on what we do.”
Cruce has more than 30 seniors on the roster this fall and will field teams on both sides of the ball entirely comprised of upper classmen.
“These kids know the system now and we know what we have to do,” Cruce said. “We’ve got something the kids can hang their hat on. We’re not experimenting with anything. We’re set. We’re just better than we were last year.”
Cruce added that there’s been a different feel around the practice field this spring.
“They are confident and they know this summer is going to be big for them,” he said.
The biggest accomplishment coming out of spring practice is the establishment of a starting quarterback in rising junior Joseph Dress.
“Dress had a good spring,” Cruce said. “He will be our starting quarterback in the fall and Josh Fiddie will back him up. Both kids had good springs.”
Cruce said the most improved player coming out of spring practice was tight end Bryce Kunkle.
“Bryce got better as the spring progressed,” he said. “He takes coaching well, he wants to be coached.”
Cruce added that Kunkle made a couple of key blocks in touchdown runs by Dress in the spring game: “Bryce came up and made a great block on the defense that allowed Dress to find the whole and run for the touchdown.”
The Berkeley defense is deep and experienced with seven seniors and four juniors. LeBlanc Whitfield stood out on the defensive side of the trenches during the spring game as did bookends Brandon Williams and Josh Simmons in the defensive backfield.
“These guys are beasts and Simmons is a legitimate D1 candidate,” Cruce said. “He’s starting to get some looks.”
On offense, center Sterling Fiddie has emerged as a solid collegiate prospect.
“He’s got good feet,” Cruce said. “He’s quick and he’s big. If we can get his arm healthy he’ll be a force on the line this fall.”
Of the younger receivers Stags D.J. Witherspoon and Deion Williams both caught the coach’s eye. “They’re going to be good,” he said.
Wide receiver Dylan Baker will be Dress’ primary target through the air.
“He’ll go after anything and won’t think twice about laying-out to make a catch or making a key block,” Cruce said. “He knows the game and he’s the total team player. He’s just a good kid.”
Beginning his third year at the helm of the Stags’ sports program as athletic director and as football coach, Cruce uses the term “good kid” a lot.
“We stress character and focusing on your teammates,” he said. “We are not a selfish team and every one of these kids puts the team first.
“These kids should be role models now. There are younger players watching them from the sidelines. We want our players to do the right things on and off the field, get good grades, use good judgment, and be good citizens.”
Cruce said it takes a special athlete to wear the Berkeley Blue.
“It’s not your right to play, it’s a privilege,” he said. “And I think we did a good job of having good character kids as part of our program.”
Before the regular season begins Aug. 30 against Stratford the Stags will line up a series of tough scrimmages. They will be tested early and often.
“We play Wando, Beaufort, and Goose Creek early in the summer and then we have Goose Creek again at Sertoma,” Cruce said. “That’s about as good a preseason match up as you’re going to find.”