Marc Morris has been the head football coach at Carolina Forest for five months.
It took him less than five minutes to break down the Panthers’ biggest problem.
“The struggles of the whole program was a strength thing – in the weight room and working out,” said Morris, who came to the area after successful runs at two North Carolina programs. “On the defensive side of the ball, when you’re [in pursuit], it stands out a little more.
“I think you can get determination. You can get them to run to the ball. You can get the mentality to set in. But the strength aspect of it is going to take time.”
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If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s much of the same thing former coach Drew Hummel was saying during his final weeks as the team’s coach last fall. The difference between Hummel and Morris, though, is that the latter is bringing with him a fresh sense of optimism that had apparently worn thin in recent seasons.
A defeatist attitude had crept into the program after winning two games in 2012 and then just one last year.
Losing had become too regular, and Hummel stepped down to make way for some new blood.
It had an immediate impact, as approximately 110 varsity and junior varsity players were left standing after the initial days of fall camp wrapped up following a handful more departures. Enthusiasm will have an affect on performance, but in many ways, so much of the scheme the previous coach used will remain in tact.
Starting quarterback Will Brunson will once again lead a pass-oriented offense with plenty of targets. Four-wide receiver sets will include Victory Woods, Khalil Brantley, James Long and Malik McCray.
Michael Culbreath will be taking over at running back. And two new offensive linemen will be joining three returners. Some of the terminology and timing will be different, but Brunson believes progress has already been made.
“We know the base stuff of this offense. We’re deeper in,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to cause us to have confusion. In the past few years, the reason there have been [losses] is we hurt ourselves. There shouldn’t be a reason to blame.”
The Panthers may again need every bit of that offense to keep pace.
The team’s defense gave up more than 50 points per game in 2013, a season in which that side of the ball was depleted by injuries and simply over-matched physically. Morris has shift some personnel there to stop the bleeding, and – as he has done with everything else – it started with the mental approach.
Getting all those new faces to come out for the team to take advantage of the school’s 2,000-student enrollment was crucial. Giving them a reason to believe in themselves was the logical next step.
“We’ve been to some places where you have to turn things around,” Morris said. “You have to teach them to be a better man before they can be a better football player. There’s a reason some teams win every year.”
Said Brunson: “He’s bringing a new standard to Carolina Forest football. We’re all on board.”