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INDEPENDENCE -- It’s bound to happen everywhere, at some time or another.
The Dallas Cowboys went through it during the early Aikman years. Notre Dame is just now dragging itself out. It happened to Syracuse, UCLA, and the University of Washington on the college level, Magna Vista, Rural Retreat and Appalachia at the high school level. Perennial championship contenders will some day bottom out. It’s bound to happen, and it happened last year in Grayson County, when Blue Devils went from the top to the bottom, and did so in a hurry. That will happen when a supremely-gifted senior class graduates and leaves a vacuum in its wake. And it’s no knock on the kids left behind. Three-year starters don’t leave a lot of time for development for kids a year or two younger. And last year, that resulted in an 0-10 season. It’s kind of like the wayward uncle who shows up at family reunions and embarrasses himself – you don’t really want to think about him a lot, but he’s got to be in the back of your mind. “You want to move on, but it’s something that can be used as a motivator,” said Grayson County coach Brett McPherson. “We know what can happen if you don’t put the work in. We don’t want to bring it up on a daily basis and dwell on it, but it’s something we’ll mention in passing if things aren’t going well in practice. It’s probably in my mind more than it is theirs.” The Blue Devils will be short on seniors once again, with three or four who will play a substantial amount of time, and there may be as many as six freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup. That plus a solid group of young athletes coming into the high school program should help restore the Blue Devils to their former glory. Grayson County held its own in its first scrimmage, against Eastern Montgomery and Covington, before taking a 31-6 loss Friday in its benefit game at defending state runner-up Floyd County. “I thought we were right there with EastMont and Covington,” McPherson said. “We had some successes with a few things, and in other areas we didn’t look so good. EastMont is supposed to be pretty good and I thought we were right there with both of them. Nobody played a great deal of defense.” Numbers are still low, with 18 to 20 true varsity players. “We’ll pull some younger kids up to get us to about 25, but our numbers aren’t good up top,” McPherson said. “Our numbers in JVs are excellent. They’ll have 33 or 34, and the middle school has good numbers.” OFFENSE Grayson County is tinkering with the spread after spending most of last year in a version of the single-wing, and even though McPherson isn’t real keen on putting the ball in the air backwards to start a play, he said the team is taking a liking to it. “They like the idea of spreading things out and running around,” he said. Ryan Hernandez finished last year as the Twin County area’s second-leading passer but returns to a more traditional role as a runningback in the Devils’ single-back set. He gained 511 yards on the ground last year, and may line up at slot receiver at times. Omar Larreta is also back for a third year, and is more of a power runner. Taking over at quarterback will be junior Ethan Hash, with Hernandez in reserve. “It’s all new for him, too,” McPherson said. “Ethan didn’t get to play a whole lot last year. He’s really working hard but it’ll take a little time.” Hash will be throwing to some pretty decent targets, including the sticky-handed Eric Harvey, who had more than 20 catches for close to 300 yards as a sophomore. Jason Thompson had four TD catches last year while Seth Ayers, Nate Cowley and Logan Watson will also be relied upon. The line will consist of numerous juniors, although most were starters by the end of last year, including Steven Ross, Taylor Hyatt, Jacob Goins and Josh Shaffner. Seniors Jake Gentry and Michael Chase, will provide the experience to sophomores Daniel Crawford and Chris Shaw. “There are no really big kids but there are a lot of kids who have got some varsity experience,” McPherson said. “None of them are over 200 pounds, so it will have to be all about technique.” DEFENSE McPherson wouldn’t give his base defense a label, because there is no true base defense any more. “You just see so much stuff now,” he said. “One week you’ll see a single wing or a power-I, the next week you’re seeing a spread, then you’re seeing a wing-T, and I think Rural Retreat ran some double-wing shotgun against Carroll. You’ve just got to move people around quite a bit.” The Blue Devils should see a decent amount of improvement on the defensive side. “I do know we’re better, skill-wise,” he said. Thompson will be a third-year starter at linebacker, Watson saw a good bit of time there and John Warren should make some plays in his first varsity season. Ryan Cummins saw a lot of playing time on the defensive front last year, as did Gentry, who started every game there. Goins is back after an injury kept him out last year while Hyatt, Crawford and Ayers will provide depth. The defensive secondary looks solid with returning starters Hernandez, Larreta and Harvey. SPECIAL TEAMS Grayson County didn’t miss a single PAT kick last year. Mainly because none was attempted. “I’d like to line up and do it at least once this year,” McPherson said. “But we’ve got a good package of two-point plays. You’d like to have that one, though. Take that Galax game. We missed a couple of conversions, and they did too. You’ve got a kid who can poke one through, it’ll help you out. But if I feel like I’ve got a kid who is 4 out of 10 in practice, I’m just going to go for two.” McPherson isn’t ready to call Grayson County an MED contender just yet. “I think our JV and middle school teams are going to be strong, we’ve just got to keep kids participating. We’ve got too many athletes walking around not participating. I think the youth programs have some good kids coming through,” he said. “Nobody is more upset about last year than me. I wasn’t happy with it either. I take a lot of responsibility for it. We’re going to keep working and get better, but I’m not going to say we’re going to flip that thing around in one year.”