Area teams begin spring football practice

  • Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dominic McKelvey/Special to The Independent -- Dionte Evans is one of three big running backs returning for defending state champion Cross. --

High school football’s dress rehearsal is under way.
It seems like just yesterday that Cross coach Shaun Wright hoisted the Class A Division II football state championship trophy over his head, bringing the first state title of any kind home to CHS.
The trophy now resides in the trophy case and the state championship rings have found their way to the top dresser drawer, and it’s time to lace up the cleats and do it all over again.
Can the Trojans do it again? Wright has heard the inevitable question.
“I get asked the question are we going to repeat?” he said. “I tell those folks you only repeat when you have everyone back.”
The nature of the beast in high school athletics is the wheel must be reinvented year in and year out, especially with the smaller schools like Cross. Wright will shoot for the top just like his teams do every year and he knows his team has a shot to do it again.
“Now will we try to win another one? Yes we will,” he said. “Practices have gone pretty good. We have a solid nucleus coming back but we lost three good senior leaders.”
If the 2012 state championship taught Wright anything, the value of leadership can never be taken for granted. “What I realized is that no matter how much talent you have, you have nothing without leadership,” he said.
The Trojans lost their quarterback and some key role players that Wright will be looking to fill over the summer months and the depth chart will be shallow, but that’s the way life is at a small school like Cross, and Wright plays the hand he’s dealt. That hand includes three aces though with all-state running backs Devante Shepherd, Dionte Evans and Diamonte Evans leading the returning starters.
“We will lean on players like Shepherd and Taurus Nelson,” Wright said, adding it’s nice to be the hunted team. “Our schedule is a challenge, and we understand that to our opponents we are the state championship game.”
The word out about the Timberland Wolves is that they never rebuild, they simply reload, but this year the Wolves will have to rely on some really young guns. For Coach Art Craig it’s getting the most out of the talent he has.
“Every year you lose a few people,” he said, “But this will be the smallest senior class I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Gone are the likes of Austin McKinney and Roderick McCray, Timberland’s Big Playmakers last year. This year the load will fall to Bernard “VA” Harmon.
“He’s the guy who will have a lot of weight on his shoulders,” Craig said. “He’s a three-year starter and will have a lot on his plate.”
Craig will also rely on returning senior Matt Gabel who is likely to find himself just about everywhere on the football field.
“We have Matt and Ryan Hood competing for the starting quarterback job along with sophomore Daniel Robinson,” Craig said. “If any of these guys aren’t playing quarterback they’ll be on the field somewhere.
Craig said Robinson is one of those special kids that have all the talent in the world packed into his slight 155-pound frame. “He plays with the confidence of a 200-pounder,” the coach said.
Craig cites a roster of about 25 sophomores and 25 juniors to go with his senior class and like Cross he’s looking for someone to step up and take on a leadership role.
“I’m looking to see which group or which individuals out of that group that will step up and assume some leadership,” he said. “The good thing is we have some juniors that are game ready. We had to play a lot of sophomores last year and they’re coming back as juniors with some game experience.”
Craig said this season will be interesting in seeing who on his team stands ready to rise and put that extra weight on their shoulders.  
“We’re looking for someone to step up and show us something,” he said.
Next week: Berkeley High School and St. John’s Christian Academy

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