Graduation-ravaged TIgers battle odds in new Big Eight

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 11:37 PM

Last fall, Northern Guilford running back T.J. Logan, now a freshman at North Carolina, ripped into Chapel Hill’s defense for 251 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries, ending the Tigers’ season in the second round of the state 3-A playoffs.

Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh was brought to tears, although he said the water running from his eyes wasn’t about the lopsided 43-0 score but instead the spillover from coming to grips with losing a special group of seniors.

Marsh could be excused for crying a little bit this preseason at the thought of graduation having cost him eight defensive starters and his No. 1 quarterback, T.J. Johnson, now a tight end at St. Augustine’s.

But there’s no apparent panic in Marsh, leaning on both the continuity of his coaching staff and the winning ways of a new batch of seniors, who haven’t lost many football games during their Chapel Hill careers.

Chapel Hill hasn’t had the most athletic football teams over the years, but the Tigers get in games and figure it out, Marsh said.

“We get the most out of them and compete, and at the end of the night, ‘Wow!’ teams are wondering how did Chapel Hill do it,” Marsh said.

Quarterbacks Lucas Christy, Jacob Guskiewicz and Grant DeSelm are competing for the starting job under center.

DeSelm started at wide receiver for the Tigers a year ago and was the team’s backup quarterback, bringing athleticism to the position.

“I’m pretty confident in the quarterbacks that we have in the program returning, but again, they have to have that varsity experience under those lights,” Marsh said.

Initially, Chapel Hill’s quarterback will need to manage the game behind a solid offensive line featuring standout junior Logan Tisch (6-3, 325) that returns to create holes for running back Darius Allen, Marsh said.

“You’re looking at an all-conference, all-area athlete that returns in our backfield,” Marsh said. “So we just need someone to manage the game.”

DeSelm, however, is athletic enough to make plays once the football is snapped to him, Marsh said.

The Tigers bring back some wide receivers who learned under pass catcher Alex Duncan, who has graduated.

“Wide receiver-wise, I think we do have some players that can definitely make the catches and make plays afterward,” Marsh said.

But then there’s the other side of the ball.

“Defensively, that’s where we’re going to be extremely green,” Marsh said. “We graduated eight from last year’s senior class. So we’re in that rebuilding phase.”

Defensive end Noah Layden (6-4, 191), linebacker Brandon Nickerson (5-11, 185) and defensive back Jeremy Peck (5-11, 165) all started for Chapel Hill a year ago and are back, offering some comfort to Marsh.

The Tigers, 9-4 in 2012, hope to control the ball on offense and buy some time for its defense, Marsh said.

That doesn’t mean Allen is going to tip around in the backfield, milking the clock, Marsh said.

“We’re not gong to take points off the scoreboard, but we definitely want to use field position to our advantage,” Marsh said.

Chapel Hill this year leaves the defunct Carolina 6 3-A Conference to compete in the newly created Big Eight 3-A, which includes Orange and Cedar Ridge of Hillsborough, Southern, Northwood, Oxford Webb, Cardinal Gibbons and Northern Vance.

Cedar Ridge and Northwood have been reclassified from 2-A and Southern from 4-A. Gibbons was undefeated in C-6 play a year ago, beating out Orange by a game. Orange lost in the state semifinals.

Those two teams, along with Southern, are among the preseason Big Eight favorites.