PREP PREVIEW 2014: Different style, perhaps different season at Cedar Ridge
Clay Jones will be the first to admit it: “I’m a little unconventional in a lot of things that I do. I don’t fit in the norm of the traditional football coaches.”
He’s hoping that his unique style and emphasis on fundamentals will help during his debut season at Cedar Ridge after taking over from Chris Casey in the offseason.
Jones has 15 years of coaching experience at middle and high schools, but this is his first high school head-coaching job.
Turning around a Cedar Ridge program that last season was 2-5 in conference and 2-9 overall will be a tall order, Jones said. The Red Wolves are 49-71 since 2004, 6-27 in the last three seasons, and they've have struggled since a 12-3 season in 2010, when they reached the state's 2-A semifinals before bowing out 21-7 to Northeastern.
Jones plans to implement a series of building blocks to get back on the winning track.
“Right now, as far as I’m concerned, I’m treating the Carrboro game like a state championship,” Jones said of the season lid-lifter.
Cedar Ridge lost to the Jaguars 36-19 last year, and Jones, who was the quarterbacks coach, said that put Cedar Ridge into a tailspin right out of the chute.
“If we can get off to a great season by winning that first game, I think that will go a long way in us being successful the rest of the year, and I’m not saying successful by making a playoff run, or making a deep run in the playoffs or competing for a conference championship," Jones said. “My main goal is to compete and get some wins that we should have gotten last year. That’s the small goal that I’m looking at.
“That will send a good message to a lot of people in the area that no matter what adversity we’ve faced, these kids have persevered and put in the work.”
Jones expects to be competitive in conference but figures Southern will repeat as champs.
“Until somebody beats Southern Durham, they’re still the state champions. I’m sure Orange will have a lot to say about that, and I’m pretty sure that Chapel Hill is much improved,” Jones said. “Cardinal Gibbons is very good at what they do. Northwood has all its kids coming back,” and all of those teams are capable of beating one another.
Cedar Ridge will get a break with home-field advantage against all of those teams except Northwood, Jones said.
The Red Wolves will have three all-conference players returning: 5-9, 160-pound senior wide receiver Chris McKoy, who gained 741 yards and 9 touchdowns; 5-8, 170-pound senior defensive back Julius Walton; and 6-2, 195-pound senior Ben Rice, an honorable-mention linebacker.
“Our main focus is to get some strength built, get a little speed built in and get back to the basics,” Jones said. “We’ve been focused on setting some structure, getting some discipline, getting some rhythm to our practices, and getting some guys in shape.
“I think passing and running the ball, we should be pretty proficient. Now the question is we’ve got a whole brand-new line,” Jones said. “We’re not going to have a senior offensive lineman, and we will probably have only one junior.”
The Red Wolves will again use a spread offense, but will add an offset-I package “to run the center just a little bit to help us in short-yardage and goal-line situations. That’s something we did not have last year,” Jones said.
Walton, a two-way player, will be in the backfield with third-year quarterback Peyton Pappas.
“Our goal offensively is to get some first downs this year, move the chains and stay on the field. Having this offset-I package will allow us to get short yardage, to get first downs. But we’re also going to look at more receptions from our receivers, not necessarily yards. We’re going to try to concentrate on 10-and-under a little more,” Jones said.
Jones wants to keep Pappas in the pocket more, “dropping back and within three seconds making decisions and trusting the receivers running the route,” with less emphasis on airing the ball out. “We’re going to be maybe 60-40 pass-run,” with Walton and sophomore Shemar Miles alternating carries.
Jones said his defense will be smaller but faster than last year and line up in a 3-4 formation, “completely changing what we ran this year as opposed to last year.”
Senior Grayson Mooring will shift to linebacker this year, and Jones expects him to complement Rice, “our defensive leader last year.”
“We’re going to try to control some gaps up front and hopefully be able to control the run game and fly some guys around to the football. I think our secondary is going to be a big part of our defense coming up and making tackles against these teams that like to air it out a lot,” Jones said.
Projected Red Wolves regulars include:
Offense — OL Cole Bullard, Zak Berry, Caleb Barlow, Nate Lewis and Jeremy Cates; WR, SB Chris McKoy, Jonathan Hall, Shemar Miles and Simon Little; RB Julius Walton; QB Peyton Pappas.
Defense — DL Ikell Knowles, Lee Fields and Josh Price; LB Ben Rice, Grayson Mooring, Justin Worley and Ethan Strowd; DB Elijah Richardson, John Williams, Seth Baldwin and Demetrius Lyles.
Special teams: K Dylan Livingston or Trenton Gill; PR, KR Chris McKoy, Julius Walton, Seth Baldwin, Simon Little and Demetrius Lyles.
That was the seventh in a series of 17 previews of area high school football programs. The series will appear daily through Friday, Aug. 22, opening night for high school football.