Prep Preview 2014: Chapel Hill reloads, readies for big year
It’s “that old cliché,” Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh said, and you can tell by the tone in his voice that the praise he heard from other coaches and the media of having “the best 4-8 team in the state” in 2013 is nice, but about as fulfilling as eating a rice cake.
“That may be so, but we want more than to just settle for that,” Marsh said, and he believes this year’s Tigers, stocked full of young returners and some very big players, is going to have a stellar season. Other coaches around the Big Eight 3-A Conference also believe Chapel Hill is going to be a greatly improved threat.
“From participating in the 7-on-7 passing league, from team camp, their depth of maturity has vastly improved from where we were last year going into this season. Just their overall discipline is better,” Marsh said.
And he’ll be relying on some key returning all-conference players: Senior Noah Layden, a 6-3, 180-pound defensive end; senior Logan Tisch, a 6-3, 300-pound offensive guard; junior Connor Korfas, a 6-0 160-pound safety; and junior George McBurney, a 6-0 220-pound center.
Tisch was picked for the preseason NC Preps All-State 3-A Team.
“He’s a good one to have on your team. He’s been on varsity ever since he was a freshman, all-conference, all-area,” Marsh said.
“It shows this is an example of hard work, and he’s pretty much the captain of the line. The offensive line is his. It just shows the younger kids, they look up to him for that leadership. You don’t have to worry about any type of horseplay in that particular unit,” Marsh said.
“Last year was his first losing season, so he’s one of those guys who definitely wants to get things back to where they were his freshman and sophomore years,” he said.
“That’s one thing they’re always challenging one another about, just reminding guys, ‘Remember last year’s record.’ They know that based upon the way they played they could have easily been 8-4,” Marsh said.
“They know the games that we lost in the final seconds or late in the fourth quarter, that’s where that discipline [comes in]. The guys have made a conscious effort doing everything the right way” during preseason practices, he said.
Marsh expects the Tigers to compete well with anyone who lines up on the other side of the ball against them. But he’s not ready to proclaim them preseason favorites in the Big Eight, in which they finished 3-4 last year.
“Based upon how they played last year and they’re returning their quarterback Kendall Hinton, I would say Southern Durham would be projected to win the conference,” Marsh said. Southern blew out Orange 40-6 in the first round of the state playoffs last year.
“I think there’s several schools that would be in that race to challenge them — Orange High, Cardinal Gibbons and Northwood, those were the next guys who finished at the top of the conference and pushed Southern Durham throughout the regular season and in the playoffs,” he said.
The Tigers again will go with a spread pistol offense, in which the quarterback lines up four yards behind center and can use a read-option style of play, and the running back lines up three yards behind him.
But who that quarterback will be is up for grabs. Junior Connor Stough transferred in from East Chapel Hill. He is competing with senior Jacob Guskiewicz for the starting nod. Both have very different styles and abilities, Marsh said, and both “have done extremely well” leading the team in preseason.
“Jake has picked up on things and he has become a fast learner. Connor has been starting for the past two years so he has more of a flow of how things should go and everything,” Marsh said.
“Up front both offensively and defensively will be our strength,” Marsh said.
“Offensively we return four of the five starters on our offensive line. We graduated one, Joey Raines. He’s going to play football at Southern Methodist this coming year,” Marsh said. “Our first priority is if they can pass block. If we can get our pass pro down, we feel confident in our running game, that we’ll be able to establish the running lanes and have our running backs open some lanes.”
Junior running back Ricki McDowell, who ground out 477 yards in his sophomore season, returns for his junior year, as does senior fullback Brandon Wendel, who compiled 197 yards rushing and 398 yards passing last year.
Defensively the Tigers again will line up in a 4-3 formation, but are working with some 3-4 variations.
“Defensively we return our starting four up front,” Marsh said. “We return two of our front linebackers. In the secondary we return two guys.” And senior placekicker Connor Albrecht is back.
PREP PREVIEWS: This is the eighth 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.