War Eagle football is here

Published 9:10 am Thursday, August 20, 2015

If your coffee tastes a little better, if the traffic seems a little lighter, if the mood in the office feels a little brighter, you have your reason: It’s football season.

Every Davie football season is hugely anticipated, and the 60th edition of Davie football will be unveiled here Friday against Page at 7:30 p.m.

From 1996 through 2012, a span of 17 seasons, the War Eagles produced 14 winning records. Between 2003-12, there were 9 winning seasons in 10 years. That was a remarkable run of consistency.

The past two years, however, saw Davie fade into the ranks of the also-rans in the Central Piedmont Conference, going 4-7 (2-4 CPC) in 2013 and 6-6 (2-4) in 2014 and finishing fifth in the league both years. But really: Wasn’t such a slide inevitable? Sooner or later the talent is going to run thin. Very few programs go 20 years without any off-years.

With Devore Holman beginning his third year as head coach, the question is this: Is Davie’s rebuilding complete? There are plenty of legitimate questions about the ‘15 team.  There appears to be a bright horizon ahead, but Davie could be a year away from contender status.

There are only 11 returning starters. LB James Boyle, DB Avery Williford, LB Michael Rauen, LB Jack Little, DL Jarrell Farmer and DL Austin Freidt ranged from full-time starters to part-time starters on defense in ‘14. WR Ben Ellis, WR Cooper Wall, OL Luke Pratapas and OL Gabe Gonnella are returning starters on offense. Chris Reynolds, the new quarterback, is a returning starter, although he was a mainstay on defense last year.

When offensive coordinator Todd Bumgarner studied names on the offensive depth chart, he counted 17 underclassmen.

“We have inexperience on both sides of the ball, but we couldn’t ask any more for the work they’ve put in,” Bumgarner said.

“It’s not very big,” Holman said of the numbers in the senior class. “The junior class is a big class.”

Many people have already penciled in Reagan, North Davidson, West Forsyth and Mt. Tabor ahead of Davie in the CPC. Not that Holman spends any time worrying about preseason predictions. He’s too busy preaching the virtues of the one-rep-at-a-time approach. If the War Eagles come together like a closed fist and maintain one heartbeat, they could become a CPC dark horse.

“We take it one drill at a time,” he said. “We take it one meeting at a time. We take it one rep at a time. All we can do is control what we do. Execute and do it at the best of our ability. If we do that, you can’t be upset with anybody. All I ask them is every practice, every drill, every rep, every sprint, every weight that they lift, do it to the best of their ability. If we play hard for 48 minutes, I’d like to think we have a chance.”

A bunch of new faces took on Lake Norman on Friday in a scrimmage. After a 50-minute running clock, the score was 0-0. No shame there. The Wildcats are coming off the greatest season in school history. They went 13-2, winning the North Piedmont 4-A/3-A Conference and reaching the final four in the 4A playoffs. They lost 48-41 to eventual champion Mallard Creek.

Davie’s offense was undermined by three missing pieces – receivers Ben Ellis and Cooper Wall and running back Curtis Gray. Holman went home scratching his head, which is hardly uncommon for head coaches.

“You want somebody to step up in those situations,” Holman said. “I saw some positive things, but I saw a lot of things we’ve got to correct this week – on top of putting in a game plan (for Page). So we’ve got corrections and a game plan to put in. And hopefully we’ll get guys who weren’t able to go back on the field this week.”

The defense was historically bad in ‘14. In an attempt to resurrect the unit, Holman instituted a new 3-5 alignment. Friday’s results were a mixed bag.

“At times we played the run real well,” he said. “I’ll be honest, a couple times I wasn’t happy. It was third-and-forever and we don’t sit on the screen and they get a big gainer on the screen. We’ve got to be able to get off the field. But at times we played the run pretty good. We’re flying around and that’s always a good thing.”

You want to see a surprise, and there’s always a surprise.  One is freshman Peyton Hampton, who is playing free safety and receiver.

“The freshman is going to be special,” Holman said. “He has the prototypical body (6-2, 185) and he’s smart.”

Another is junior Angel Perez, who plays cornerback and receiver.

“Angel has played real well in preseason,” Holman said. “He played a lot of corner and receiver (against Lake Norman). He runs good, he covers good and he definitely understands he’s working for a spot.”

Patience is going to be needed in several spots, maybe with the offensive line more than anywhere. The good news:  Holman finds comfort in the fact the big fellas are being groomed by Jimmie Welch, the ninth-year OL coach.

“Coach Welch has done an excellent job – and will continue to do an excellent job – with those o-linemen,” he said. “Because he works their rear ends off and they respond to him.”

Blaine Nicholson is the fourth junior varsity head coach in four years, following Todd Bumgarner, Doug Smith and Welch. Holman gave the second-year coach a thumbs up.

“He’s doing a good job at it,” he said. “He’s got a great work ethic. He takes what he does to heart. He’s one of those guys, when it’s not right, he’s not happy about it. He’s got organization skills. He wants his I’s to be dotted and his T’s to be crossed.”

Nicholson is thrilled to have the JV reigns. On the morning of Aug. 1, the first official practice, he awakened at 5:30 a.m., nearly three hours before the beginning of practice.

“I’m absolutely pumped,” he said. “I was jacked up (Aug. 1). I couldn’t sleep. I’m just really excited for the opportunity. It’s awesome to be able to do this my second year here and have such a good staff.”