Andrews wasn’t holding its head low after finishing third in Region VII-AA a year ago.
First off, the Yellow Jackets were more than aware of how far they’d come in coach Steve Blanchard’s relatively short time at the school. Second, they understand Bishop England and Timberland – the top two teams in the region – were pretty darn good. Those squads split the two Class AA state titles.
This year, finishing third in the region again might be cause for celebration.
Andrews and its fourth-year head coach will be grasping for a finish in the top half of Region VII-AA after losing its four most influential players and another 10 or so who made up the majority of last year’s starters.
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“When I first came here three years ago, that sophomore group was it,” Blanchard said of the 16 or so players he lost after 2011. “That whole group came up with me. You didn’t really have to say too much to them. I really miss those guys.
“How do you replace them? I really don’t know yet. I’m still trying to figure it out. We’ve got some young kids. We don’t have the quantity that we had, but we have six-eight kids who follow along with us.”
As numbers at the school have dwindled – an average drop of 90 kids per year in the last three years – replacing departures has become that much harder. Replicating last year’s 8-4 finish and winning another playoff game is going to depend on the small number of returners Blanchard has at his disposal.
Quarterback Ethan Wright steps into the starting spot behind center, and the coach recognized immediately that he could finally use the player’s size and arm as an in-roads to a passing game. The team will utilize some spread this year to accompany the pistol it mostly operated out of a year ago.
“I’ve never thrown the ball since I’ve been there,” Blanchard said. “I’m gonna try to be 50-50. I think the first year I was there, it was 95-5.
“We’re gonna run the football. That’s how you win high school football games. But having a quarterback who is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and he’s got an arm, you have to [throw].”
It’s something third-year starting center Pat Ward is ready for, too.
“We can get good pass protection now,” he said. “All these kids are learning. We’ve got a good quarterback. He’s got a decent arm with some touch.”
The bigger question mark may be on defense, where the team will need to replace eight starters. The Yellow Jackets held seven opponents to 14 points or less and recorded a pair of shutouts last year.
Blanchard said creating turnovers would go a long way, and that may fall to the few returning contributors that defense has. Defensive back Jaleel Filmore – who will also play running back and receiver – had a solid season in 2011, as did safety Monte McCrea. Those two alone should be able to quell opposing teams’ deep threats, and McCrea is also crucial in stopping the run.
Ward will also play on the interior of the defensive line, and Jordan Cantley and Rivers Cribb are likely starters at linebacker. As for the rest of the spots, Blanchard is going to use every moment of the preseason to figure that out.
By the time Week 1’s matchup with St. James rolls around, the coach hopes the Andrews concept is in place.
“The thing that we can do the best is just being consistent,” Blanchard said. “If by the time you start the season you go out there and say ‘I’m going to get better every day,’ you’re going to be successful.”