PILOT MOUNTAIN — When East Surry unleashed powerful tailback Lucas Koons, the Cardinals at times looked unstoppable last year.
Just how far the senior runs this season could hinge on how quickly a new offensive line comes together.
The Cardinals kick off the season tonight at home against in-county rival Surry Central. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Koons rushed for 1,590 yards on 263 carries with 21 touchdowns a season ago.
“To go for 1,500, that’s a lot of yards,” said coach David Diamont, entering his 28th season as East Surry’s football coach. “He’s not a blazing speed guy. He’s a strong runner with a low center of gravity. He gets good extra yards, and he has enough speed to break some long ones.”
East will look vastly different up front — with mostly guys who played backup roles as juniors. Paving the way for the Cards running game will be seniors Madison Bowman, Austin Corns, Garrett Vass, Emilio “Big E” Martinez and Travis Bohr. Juniors Corben Kiser, Brandon McKinney, Preston Snow, Tony Speaks and Ben Chilton are also in the mix.
Seniors Jack Edwards and Trevor Johnson are solid tight ends and fullback J.T. Lichtenberger is a leader on both sides of the football, who Diamont said “fears nobody.”
Diamont noted that his offense sometimes performed well in a spread look last season. Many times the formula was old-school power football.
“We can get tight, go shoe to shoe with you and run right at you,” he said.
Koons, the returning offensive player of the year in the conference, has packed on a few extra pounds of muscle and could be poised for another breakout year. He piled up more than 200 yards in a state playoff win against Mount Airy in 2013 — running behind a rock solid line that included players such as Josh Fregia and Christian Shinault.
Diamont wants to see his linemen to embrace being called nasty — guys who are relentless on every single play.
“We can have bad assignments. That can be corrected. We can have bad technique. That can be corrected,” Diamont said. “But if we don’t get in the other guys’ grill, we’ve got a problem. You don’t correct that, you replace it.”
Junior Tyler Smith will likely be the starting quarterback for the Cardinals. The 5-foot-11 Smith guided the junior varsity team to a 10-0 mark last season.
“He throws the ball real well, has good size and runs well. We are expecting big things out of him,” Diamont said. “If something happened to him, I am totally confident putting John Snow in there.”
Snow was 10 of 17 passing for 155 yards with two touchdowns and an interception while sharing time at QB with senior John Dickenson in 2013. Snow will provide a big boost this season on defense at safety.
Blake Marion, who had a team-high 21 receptions as a sophomore, returns to the mix at wide receiver. Shawn Creed, Demidrick Hargrave, Gage Edwards, Jakob Todd, Alex Eubanks and Austin Jessup are also in the lineup.
Defensive coordinator Randy Marion leads a group that led the conference in points allowed last season. East gave up 200 points in 14 games, with 27 coming against high-scoring West Montgomery in the third round of the state playoffs.
Kiser, who missed the playoffs last season with a knee injury, can play nose tackle or defensive end for East. Edwards and Travis Pugh, another senior, will on the defensive line also. Speaks, a junior, plays on the line, and coach Marion can also turn to the 300-pound Martinez at nose tackle.
Lichtenberger (90 solo tackles last season) anchors the Cards’ linebacking corp as the reigning Northwest defensive player of the year. Staymon Johnson is coming off a season where he led the JV team in tackles. Jessup, Bowman, and Vass can play inside linebacker while Edwards, Koons, Creed and Ty Brooks play outside.
In the secondary, Diamont said Snow has looked good at safety, while Hargrave and Isaiah Cokley give the Cardinals some speed at the corners. Hargrave and Cokley will be making their first varsity starts.
Devon Goble, Andrew Kozlow and Antonio Mata will handle the kicking duties.
Diamont said he hopes a tough scrimmage schedule prepares his team for the season opener against Surry Central. The Cards scrimmaged SouthLake Christian Academy, Lincolnton (which features one of the nation’s top defensive line prospects Darian Roseboro), Ashe County and Elkin.
East went 11-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play last season. The nonconference schedule features Central, Starmount, North Surry, West Stokes, South Stokes and Forbush.
“We open (conference play) with Walkertown, and that’s a total unknown,” Diamont said. “I was amazed last year at the athletes they have. They beat us 21-0 in the second half, and that left a lasting impression on me.
The Cards close out the regular season at rival Mount Airy — a team they split with in 2013.
“Mount Airy is always going to be a major game for us,” Diamont said. “You look at both rosters, we both have about the same group back. Maybe we’ll play them twice again. That would be fun.”
East Surry Varsity Football Schedule
Aug. 22 Surry Central
Aug. 29 at Starmount
Sept. 5 North Surry
Sept. 12 West Stokes
Sept. 19 Open
Sept. 26 at South Stokes
Oct. 3 Forbush
Oct. 10 Walkertown
Oct. 17 at Bishop McGuinnes
Oct. 24 North Stokes
Oct. 31 at Atkins
Nov. 7 at Mount Airy
East Surry Varsity Football Roster
# Player Class Pos. Ht. Wt.
2 Staymon Johnson JR FB/LB 5-8 200
3 Shawn Creed JR WR/DB/OLB 5-10 145
4 Jack Edwards SR TE/LB/DL 6-2 205
7 John Snow SR QB/DB/OLB 5-9 150
11 Tyler Smith JR QB/DB 5-11 175
12 Blake Marion JR WR/OLB/ILB 5-11 185
16 Austin Jessup SR WR/RB/OLB 5-8 175
18 Demidrick Hargrave JR WR/RB/DB 6-1 165
24 Lucas Koons SR RB/ILB/OLB 5-9 180
25 Ty Brooks JR RB/OLB 5-7 135
26 Eli Russell JR TE/OLB 5-8 145
27 Gage Edwards JR WR/RB/OLB/DB 5-10 170
29 Colby Ashburn JR TE/WR 5-9 140
30 Travis Pugh SR FB/DE 5-10 190
32 Eddie Scott JR RB/OLB/DB 5-9 150
34 J.T. Lichtenberger SR FB/RB/ILB 5-10 185
35 Travis Taylor JR TE/OLB 5-10 150
43 Tanner Sheets SR TE/DB 6-0 140
45 Devon Goble JR K/P 5-9 175
46 Levi Banks JR WR/DB/OLB 5-10 150
53 Austin Corns SR OL 6-0 270
55 Mason Bowman SR OL/LB 5-10 195
58 Corben Kiser JR DL/OL 5-11 205
64 Garrett Vass SR OL/DL/ILB 6-0 205
65 Brandon McKinney JR OL/DL 5-9 235
66 Emilio Martinez SR DL/OL 6-0 295
67 Preston Snow JR OL 5-11 215
72 Travis Bohr SR OL 6-0 230
75 Ben Chilton JR OL/OLB 5-10 165
76 Adam Coins JR DL 5-11 220
78 Tony Speaks JR DL/OL 5-11 290
80 Jacob Todd SR WR/DB 6-2 160
85 Alex Eubanks JR WR/DB 5-10 145
86 Isaiah Cokley SR WR/DB 5-7 140
87 Ben Rolison SR TE/DB 5-10 170
90 Antonio Mata SR K 6-0 180
93 Andrew Kozlow SR K 5-7 145
97 Trevor Johnson SR TE/DE 6-2 175