Carroll County putting new twist on old scheme

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The Cavaliers are tweaking things on both sides of the ball in hopes of better utilizing their personnel.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

HILLSVILLE -- It’s not like Carroll County head coach Tom Hale is jacking around with a good thing. The Cavaliers’ wing-T scheme produces a potent – if not flashy – ground game, with four main backs combining for more than 2,000 yards last year. And it works consistently at Carroll County, which has had two non-winning records during Hale’s 10-year tenure after the school posted losing records in 20 of the previous 29. But for the first time in his coaching career, Hale will be lining up with two wideouts and without a tight end, and it nearly drove the old-school coach nuts over the summer. “I thought I was going to struggle,” said Hale. “It worried me all through the offseason, and until we got going the first week of practice I just didn’t think I was going to like it. And I’m still not sure.” Two wideouts? First, logos appeared on the formerly plain blue helmets last year, and now this? Hale is old-school, but he is also a man of reason, and he isn’t opposed to tweaking a good thing if necessity dictates it. Necessity in this case is personnel. “I like having that big physical kid in there [at tight end] that can block down and do things we’ve done in the past, but I have to admit, it’s been a pretty tough transition for me. And unless it’s just disastrous to start the season, that’s what we’ll be in.” And the changes aren’t limited to the offense. Defensively, the Cavaliers will be switching to a setup with three down linemen. Again, the former scheme worked, as Carroll County allowed just 15 points per game over the final eight weeks of last season. But again, personnel dictated the move. “We changed our defense to accommodate more of our athletic ability,” said Hale. “We’re getting more linebacker and secondary-type guys on the field, which is what we seem to have more of.” That’s a lot of change for a non-election year. OFFENSE The changes to the offense won’t really affect the play calling on the field. Just a not-so-extreme makeover to a familiar face. “We’re doing a lot of the same things but we’re going to be in that open set more to keep you spread out,” Hale said. “We really don’t feel like we have a true tight end-type player like we’ve had in the past. And we feel like being spread out you’ve got to balance out your defense. You can’t load upon one side of the ball. And with our skill we feel like we’re just as good on either side of the ball.” And there is plenty of skill to go around. The Cavaliers lost top ballcarrier Cody Mabe, who rushed for 829 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, but Dillon Caviness (6-1, 184, sr.) was an 800-yard rusher, and speedy halfback Zack Surratt wasn’t far behind. The Cavaliers also return halfback Ulisis Moreno, plus both quarterbacks, junior starter Blake Bowman and senior Adam Nester. Fullback Brandon Huff gained experience as Mabe’s backup last year, and it’ll be fun to see just how good fullback Jacob Mollett will be. “I feel good about those guys,” Hale said. “I feel that when we put the ball in Zack’s hands or Dillon’s hands, good things are going to happen. We’re blessed. We’ve got Jacob Mollett back there, a 230-pound sophomore who is an athlete. He’s young, but he can be unbelievable.” The Cavaliers will still utilize the familiar tight end formation in short-yardage situations, probably with Mollett moving to the line. Another newcomer who should make a quick impact is wideout Tyler Reavis, back on the field for the first time since ninth grade. “He came to me in the middle of January said he would like to play, said I we’d like to have you and here’s what you have to do,” Hale said. “He worked his behind off. He hasn’t missed anything skill-wise.” Reavis won the team’s iron-man competition, held after a spring and summer of grueling conditioning, and caught four passes for 61 yards in the team’s first scrimmage. Mickey Quesenberry, a 5-10, 223-pound guard, is the lone full-time starter back on the offensive line, while tackle Kile Wengerd (5-10, 214) was a regular as a junior. Center Cody Edwards (5-11, 262) and tackle Hunter Grubb (6-6, 251) were two-year starters on the JVs, and Ryan Frazier (6-1, 179) steps into the starting role at guard. The Cavaliers don’t have a lot of depth on the offensive line, and most of the reserves are young, two factors that give Hale cause for concern. DEFENSE Carroll County lost its top three tacklers from a year ago. District defensive player of the year James Lanning amassed 108 tackles, and will be missed along with Jason Bolen and Drew McCraw. And the Cavaliers aren’t blessed with a lot of size, thus the switch to a linebacker-friendly 3-5 scheme, sometimes called a 3-3 stack, on defense. With a lot of attacking going on, there will be some big gains given up, but Hale hopes they will be more than offset by catching guys in the backfield. Carroll had 17 tackles for loss in its benefit game at Galax. Mollett anchors the line at nose guard. “He’s a man-child,” said Hale. “He can play sideline to sideline.” At tackle will be Quesenberry and Wengerd, with Frazier and Grubb rotating in. The linebacking corps is deep, but is already trying to overcome illness and injury. Aaron Willard (flu), Logan Hodges (foot) and Jordan Lamb (knee) will all eventually contribute. The outside will be manned by linebacker-cornerback hybrids who can blitz, play the run or drop into deep coverage: Reavis, Caviness and Moreno, Jonathan Snow, Ryan Marshall and Eric Marshall. Surratt moves to safety after picking off six passes in an all-region year at corner. Cornerback Glen Love came up with two key picks against Galax, and either Bowman or Ryan Ayers will fill the other cornerback spot, along with Alex Horton. SPECIAL TEAMS Mason King was 5-for-5 in preseason PAT attempts, connected on 18 extra points as a junior and put in countless hours of offseason work in between. Moreno will handle the kickoffs and also hold down the punting job. Though the years of the booming 45-yard punts may be gone for a while, the squibbly 40-yarder will work just as well. Moreno is adeptly executing the rugby-style punt, scrambling to one side before punting on the run, giving the coverage extra time to get downfield. Despite the unorthodox style, Moreno averaged 40 yards per kick against Galax.