BAILEY – Even with an underclassmen-heavy squad in a learning process last season, Southern Nash showed an ability to win close games, an attribute that landed the Firebirds in the NCHSAA 3-AA playoffs.
Now those players have grown a year older, and they want more than just a playoffs appearance in 2013, the final chance for a talented senior class.
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“I think the experience is going to pay off really well,” senior tight end Alonte Thomas said. “Last year, everybody was a junior coming up, so this year, we should have a lot of experience.”
The Firebirds did lose their best player, offensive lineman Cameron Gardner, who now plays at Wake Forest, but the team returns playmakers at every level.
Deon Lavender returns for his third year as the starting quarterback, and behind him Taylor Finch, Sebastian Oneal and Zomonia Knight come back from varsity success last season.
Devin Denton and Kendall Parker made significant plays at linebacker in key games last season, and both are back in the middle this year.
Richard Hall and Tahj Deans provide athletic pass-catchers, and varsity regulars along the offensive line like Thomas and Boris Burt have the Firebirds loaded with experience, but coach Brian Foster wants to see chemistry improve before anybody jumps to conclusions.
“I think the biggest thing for them is understanding it’s more about the team than individuals,” Foster said. “We don’t have cocky kids, but I just want to see a little bit more team chemistry, a little bit more love for each other.”
Southern Nash will stick by its tried-and-true double-wing offense, but the team figures to be more well-rounded than it has been in years. Southern Nash won two memorable games – at SouthWest Edgecombe and vs. Rocky Mount High – with long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
Tempted to throw more often? Not quite.
“We’re older on the line, so I think we’ll have better leadership, but we’ll probably run the ball a lot more, actually,” Thomas said.
The Firebirds possess the ability to throw when they need it, but Foster said Southern Nash will look the same as it has for nearly two decades.
Foster said Southern Nash doesn’t quite have its personnel down yet, as the Nash County Jamboree alerted the coaching staff to issues that needed attention.
What Southern Nash does have, has had and likely will have, however, is an identity.
When teams come to Bailey, they better be ready to stop the run.
“If I told our kids today that we aren’t going to run the football, they’d be terribly upset,” Foster said. “That’s our identity, that’s what we believe in. The best thing to do is what you believe in.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com