By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gaston High head coach Swane Morris has a situation on his hands that he can’t recall running into during his previous 17 years as a head coach.
Out of every skill position on offense, he has no returning veterans, much less starters.
“Some of them got snaps last year, but there’s several kids that will be out there for the first time,” he said. “We’re fortunate from the standpoint that a few of those kids can share time where it won’t be overwhelming.”
On the other hand, every member of the offensive line either started or saw game action on 2016 is back with juniors Lane Talbot, Christian Farley, Kelly Davis and Anderson Wadkins and sophomore Cole Wadsworth.
“We’ve got some kids there that are experienced and knowledgeable,” said Morris, who in entering his 15th year as head coach at Gaston. “That’s a big thing and should really helped us as the skill guys get some experience. The learning curve is not as sharp as it is for the other group. They just need to get their reps and get back into form.”
The 2016 Bulldogs went 6-5 and finished third in Class 2A, Region 6. It marked the 13th time in Morris’ 15 years as Gaston head coach that the Bulldogs made the state playoffs.
The Gaston offense once again will operate out of the pistol formation, this time with senior Lathon Stewart pulling the trigger at quarterback.
“It’s really been fun to watch Lathon develop,” said Morris. “There’s been a lot of growth with him at every practice. I’ve been very pleased with his progression. He can throw it a long way and he can run, so he’s a dual threat and very versatile.”
Senior tight end Zach Satterfield, who caught 14 passes last year, should help ease Stewart’s growing pains. Senior Matthew Rich, junior D.J. Easley, sophomore Jayden Dupree and freshman Nick Lewis make up the primary receiving unit. Junior Kameron Hawkins saw time at running back last season and is expected to receive the majority of handoffs along with fellow junior Tyler Tinsley.
“Kameron didn’t start last year, but he got more and carries as the year went on,” said Morris. “They’re different in that Kameron is shifty good vision and with a lot of power while Tyler is shifty with a good deal of speed.”
Talbot was the team’s second-leading tackler in 201 with 101 from his middle /linebacker position, while Satterfield finished with 80 tackles and six sacks at end.
“Lane will be a big leader on defense, because he re-cognizes formations and makes all of the strength calls,” said Morris. “It’s good to have in in there with him being about 6’2, 225 (pounds and can run.”
Hawkins and senior Dakota Wright will also play at linebacker. Wasdworth will be the other defensive end, while Farley, Wadkins, sophomore Taylor Wolfe, junior Kavonte Lindsey and senior Logan Glenn will rotate at tackle.
Morris noted that the secondary would likely be the Achilles heel of the defense, at least early in the season.
“Just like the skill players on offense, those guys will be totally new,” said Morris. “We’ve got a long way to go back there.”
Hawkins will stay busy on special teams as both the punter and kicker. Morris sees defending state champion Fyffe as the class of Region 6, with the Bulldogs, Westbrook Christian, Sand Rock, Collinsville, Ider and Asbury battling it out for the remaining three postseason slots.
“When you look at our region, pretty much every team can beat you,” said Morris. “But Fyffe is on top until somebody beats them.” Assistant coaches are Lee Wadsworth, Jesse Pruitt and Jerry King. Morris views the schedule every season as a matter of not putting the wagon before the horse. “The biggest thing we talk about is working to be 1-0, in that the next game we play is always the most important of the season. If you look too far down the schedule and try to figure out which games are winnable, you’re going to lost at least one game. We’re focused on who we’ve got next, and that’s it. The rest of it will take care of itself.”