By Chris McCarthy
Gaston High head football coach Swane Morris likened part of his offseason work on the roster as assembling the pieces of a puzzle.
“We’re having to move different people around to different spots, and hopefully we won’t be short a piece when we’re finished,” he said. “We’ll see if our kids can handle it. We have a group that’s doing a little bit extra in practice, and that tends to rub off on the younger guys.”
The Bulldogs went 7-4 last year and finished third in Class 2A, Region 7. It marked the 11th time in Morris’ 12 years as head coach that Gaston made the state playoffs.
Morris noted that the offense might not be explosive as it has in the past but it will be bigger in size and strength.
Senior quarterback K.J. Hollingsworth will direct the Bulldogs’ pistol-style offense.
“He’s a good passer, so hopefully he can be a part of that explosiveness,” said Morris.
Senior D.J. Pope, and junior J.D. Pope (who ran for 686 yards and five touchdowns last season) will be Hollingsworth’s primary backfield mates, with sophomore Kameron Hawkins expected to get some handoffs.
Senior Alexander Allen is back at receiver and pun-ter. He had a team-leading 16 catches for 416 yards in 2015. Morris also sees senior Tanner Wade as a key part of the passing game.
The Bulldogs will be starting a young left side of the offensive line, with freshman Cole Wadsworth and two sophomores – Lane Talbot and Christian Farley.
That’s not to say they’re inexperienced, however.
“All three of them started at one point or other last season,” Morris said. “So they’re not true unknowns.”
Also back in the trenches is senior guard Jesse Samples, tackle Cameron Johnson and freshman guard Cole Wadsworth.
Gaston is going to have a new look on defense, moving to a 4-2-5 base.
“I think it’s a better fit for the teams we play,” said Morris. “We’ve just got to get comfortable in it.”
A good many players will see double-duty on defense, including Samples at linebacker, where he had 101 tackles and five sacks last season, and Hollingsworth at safety, where he had 99 stops.
“In addition, two-time All-County middle linebacker Cameron Peacock (110 tackles) is also back. Lane is at the third linebacker spot.
“Peacock’s one of those kids who isn’t flashy but will always be there,” said Morris.
Farley and Wadsworth share time at defensive tackle, along with senior Eddie Kozer. Junior Zach Satterfield will start at end.
Lee Wadsworth, Jesse Pruitt and Matt Watson make up the assistant staff.
Class 2A, Region 6 is loaded, according to Morris.
“This region is still as competitive as it ever was. Fyffe is still No. 1 until someone beats them. We’ll do it eventually; I just don’t know when we’ll do it.”
Morris noted that two teams – Westbrook and Sand Rock – are dropping down from 3A. The only team that is an unknown is Asbury, which is playing its first season. Collinsville and Ider round out the region.
Morris said that finding good leaders is always an important part of the offseason and training camp.
“You want to make that the right guys step forward and lead together and in the correct way. When that happens, the rest of the team has to get in line and do the things they’re supposed to do.”
Toward that end, Morris point out that vocal leadership is not high on his priority list.
“I want guys who’ll do their jobs in the weight room, on the practice field and in the game,” he said. “Guys will follow someone who works hard and does things the right way.”
Stan Veitch contributed to this article.