Mount Airy’s football team went 9-4 last year and has won 13 straight games in Northwest Conference schedule.
The bad news for the rest of the conference is that the team might be even better this year.
During Mount Airy’s 7-on-7 drills July 31, one of the opposing coaches declared, “This might be the fastest team they’ve had since 2008.”
As if anyone’s forgotten, that Granite Bear team went 16-0 and scored at least 37 points in every game.
Head coach Kelly Holder isn’t ready to make any comparisons to that team, but he did concede, “We’ll be a little quicker than we’ve been in a while.”
The offense returns almost all of its skill players (four of whom drew all-conference honors), but will have to overcome the loss of several offensive linemen, including powerful Isaiah King, who is walking on at East Carolina University this fall.
The backfield is led by returning quarterback Logan Holder, who passed for nearly 1,200 yards and nine TDs.
Fullback Andrew Jones enters his third season as starter. He powered his way to 5.3 yards per carry last season.
Backing up Holder at QB will be Jackson Smith, while Jones is backed up by Clayton Cogdill.
Rushing duties will fall to Shay Wilson and Davontae Dobson, who combined for 1,700 yards in 2013.
Wilson, also an all-conference wrestler, racked up 956 yards and 14 TDs. Dobson tallied 750 yards and 13 TDs.
On the outside, Caleb Horton made 30 catches for 523 yards and five TDs.
He will be joined by the speedy Cordell France, who finished second in the state in the 200 meters in May. France caught just eight passes as a sophomore, but has been impressive in passing drills.
Another quick wideout is Isiah Simmons, who earned all-conference honors for his defensive work last year.
Coach Holder said one of the most improved players has been Kenyon Smith, a junior who won 27 wrestling matches last year. Smith missed some practice time with a sore knee, but is expected to contribute.
Also at the wideout position are Brandon Sheppard, David Luna and Rockey Tickles.
At tight end are three-sport athlete Cooper Orange, baseball standout Wes Bumgardner and wrestling standout Cameron Pack.
Because of the thin depth at offensive line, Andrew Moore and Jorge Hernandez were moved from possible tight ends to backup guard spots.
The Bears lost three all-conference linemen in King, Zac Casstevens and Jarred Jenkins. They also lost David Sparger, who made all-conference for his defensive work, but also started on the line.
The only returning starter is Sihem Smith, who will be at one of the tackle positions.
“We’re doing some different things,” said Holder. “It might look the same to the casual fan.”
Teams playing a 50 defense against the Bears were making it difficult on the tackles, said Holder. Offensive line coach Donald Price has spent a lot of time working on some new blocking schemes.
While the team has talent at receiver, Holder reminded, “I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to be able to run the ball. That hasn’t changed here in 50 years.” The new blocking schemes are part of adapting and evolving to stay effective.
How well the team does could depend on a couple of brothers: Gabriel and Ezekiel King. Holder has been pleased with how well they are picking up on the new roles and lingo. They will play the guard roles.
At the center will be Riley Shaw and Noah Starrette.
Opposite Smith at the other tackle could be Clay Welch.
Also competing for time on the line are Gabriel Pinalosa, Chandler Hull, Jordan Witt, Brandon Davis and Jonathan Seagraves.
The defense lost two all-conference seniors (King and Sparger), but return five in Dobson, Horton, Jones, Simmons and Smith.
Defensive coordinator Darren Taylor said Sihem has worked hard in the weight room over the summer. He has become a more vocal leader, which the defensive line needs.
Ezekiel King is a junior who works hard and is very coachable. Brother Gabriel, a state qualifier in discus, is very athletic and has a lot of potential.
Shaw, a junior, should should see some considerable time on the defensive line. Welch played mostly on offense last year, but showed some good things defensively in camp.
Jorge Hernandez is one of the strongest kids on the team, but he’s been battling a knee injury. When he’s healthy, he will be shifted from linebacker to the line.
Seagraves, Hull, Pinalosa and Witt will all help out.
Brandon Davis, junior, has had multiple injuries over his first two years, and Taylor said he hoped the young man is healed up.
Jones leads the linebacking corps who gets Andrew Moore back after an injury curtailed his junior year.
Clayton Cogdill was moved up from JV last year and got his first action against Walkertown where he gave the pass rush a spark.
The outside linebackers also act like additional defensive backs at times.
Simmons and Wilson have good speed and are aggressive. Jackson Smith has potential and a strong will to win.
Cooper Orange can play any LB spot. Pack has gotten taller and filled out more. Luna can play OLB and cornerback. Starrette was the middle linebacker on JV last year and is solid. Bumgardner didn’t play football last year, but is back this time. Taylor said he has been pleased with the progress of Brandon Sheppard.
In the defensive backfield, Horton starts at free safety.
Caleb is a great athlete and football player and is emerging as a team leader, said Taylor. He can keep guys in position on the back end.
It was unreal how much Davontae Dobson improved from his sophomore to junior years, and the senior has continued to develop, Taylor said.
Cordell started last year, but had some struggles at times, said Taylor. That happens with sophomores who are still learning the system and their responsibilities. Now he’s starting to make that turn like Davontae did and coming on strong.
Kenyon Smith can do a lot of things defensively, whether at cornerback or outside linebacker. Holder can help out at safety as well.
On special teams, the Bears won’t have all-conference kicker and all-state soccer star Mitchell Brown.
“No, but we’ll have his younger brother,” said Holder.
Freshman Robert Brown looks to follow in Mitchell’s footsteps.
Logan Holder will handle punting duties.
2014 Varsity Roster
# Player Position Year
1 Robert Brown P/K 9
3 Caleb Horton WR/DB 12
4 Logan Holder QB/DB 12
5 Cordell France WR/DB 11
8 Davontae Dobson RB/DB 12
10 Jackson Smith QB/LB 10
12 Cooper Orange TE/LB 11
14 Brandon Sheppard WR/DB 12
19 Rockey Tickles WR/DB 12
20 Shay Wilson RB/DB 12
21 Isiah Simmons RB/LB 12
27 Kenyon Smith RB/LB 11
32 Clayton Cogdill RB/LB 10
42 Andrew Jones FB/LB 12
45 Cameron Pack TE/LB 11
50 Riley Shaw OL/DL 11
51 Cody Clawson OL/DL 10
54 Sihem Smith OL/DL 12
55 Jonathan Seagraves OL/DL 11
59 Andrew Moore OL/LB 12
60 Noah Starette OL/LB 11
65 Chandler Hull OL/DL 12
67 Jorge Hernandez OL/LB 12
70 Brandon Davis OL/DL 11
73 Jordan Whitt OL/DL 11
74 Clay Welch OL/DL 12
75 Ezekiel King OL/DL 11
76 Gabriel Penaloza OL/DL 11
78 Gabriel King OL/DL 10
80 David Luna WR/LB 11
88 Wes Bumgardner TE/LB 12
Donald Price, offensive line
Jon Cawley, tight ends
Jonathan Wilmoth, wide receivers
Darren Taylor, defensive coordinator
Mitch Martin, linebackers
Trey Johnson, defensive line
Justin Moore, defensive backs
Austin Taylor, defensive assistant