HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

East Eagles bash foes and leave them at Whitt’s end


By Pete Zamplas –

East Henderson High’s new head coach Steven Whitt, who succeeds successful Brett Chappell, is praised by players as a more encouraging version while spurring the usual ferocious defense and strong line play.

Whitt has a more run-based variation of the explosive spread offense Chappell utilized, to reinvigorate the Eagle program. Chappell won two outright conference crowns including one last year, and two more shared ones. He brought back hardware in half of his eight seasons in East Flat Rock.

Chappell took on a lucrative coaching-only job at rival Pisgah. He said he is proud he built a winning “tradition” at East. He molded Pisgah-like toughness. It seems “if you can’t beat him, hire him” away. Pisgah did. Franklin, East and Pisgah are WNC Athletic Conference consensus frontrunners. East opens its season Aug. 23, by hosting 1-AA power Swain.

Whitt credits Chappell’s “foundation of success,” but leads a new cast and challenge. He seems up to the task. Whitt is an encourager, East Athletic Director Doug Justice said. “He’s a great fit. The kids like him.” Several players said so, feeling a challenging yet more productive atmosphere. T.J. Ballard (East Class of ’95), who coaches quarterbacks and running backs, likes Whitt’s “tough love” blend and “positive” can-do vibe.

Players echo Whitt’s slogan about being “four-quarter strong,” to go all out starting early rather than have to turn it on later as often happened.

Whitt is also East’s defensive coordinator. He led defense for the prior 11 years at West Stokes, which won the 2-AA state title in 2011. The 1994 Surrey Central grad is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, and bigger than most of his Eagle players.

Whitt is also East’s defensive coordinator. He led defense for the prior 11 years at West Stokes, which won the 2-AA state title in 2011. The 1994 Surrey Central grad is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, and bigger than most of his Eagle players.

Whitt was fiery at the opening scrimmage Saturday against explosive Erwin and gritty Owen, in instructing his troops. He demands a “nasty mentality.” As an offensive lineman his goal was to “physically hurt you. If their stud is beat up and comes out of the game, you get a mental edge.” Whitt clarified that “I don’t teach players to play dirty, but within the whistle. Close to being out of control, without stepping over the line.” Thus, East’s aggressive tradition simmers on.

“I’m glad we’re no longer hitting each other” only, biggest Eagle Nathan Dalton told The Tribune after the scrimmage. Teammates must be even more grateful, for a break from colliding with their largest (6-6, 315 pounds) cohort in practice. Other teams marvel at humongous, talented Dalton. Big birds battling for starts include seniors Logan Kappler (6-0, 270), Matt Pressley (6-4, 280), Kalvin Creiger (6-0, 260) and Dustin Wortman (6-1, 235); juniors Devin Neal and Trey Taylor, and sophomore Jonathan Wychoff.

“Our linemen are the backbone. They lead with undying work ethic, in the ‘trenches,’” Coach Whitt said. “Football is warfare. Running backs are the tanks, receivers your jets. I tell those big ‘ole hogs to dig in their heels. We’ll grind it out, and run the ball down their throats.”

The Eagles return merely four starters on offense, and five on defense. East graduated six of its seven all-WNCAC stars on offense in quarterback Seth Owen (2,166 yards, 25 TD passing), WR Steffon Hill (55 catches, nearly 1,000 rec. yd.), big TE Tyler Sexton (18 TDs), RB Logan Jones (1,005 yd., 12 TD rushing) and WNC all-star center Kyle Malone. Linemen Walker Lanning and 305-pound Austin “Tiny” Cooke transferred this week to a private school, Whitt noted.

But much talent comes to varsity from ’12 WNCAC champion junior varsity, starting with new quarterback Austin Fisher. The junior has progressed tremendously this month. He showed on Saturday he is very athletic with a fine arm, and a “gritty” runner as Whitt puts it. Whitt cited such QB roles as guiding the offense, avoiding errors and as a calming “voice of reason.”

Fisher wears predecessor Owen’s number seven. Fisher can fire up teammates with emotional intensity, yet also keep them loose with humor. He even clowns around doing voice characters, soft-voiced for clever subtlety much like comical Texas Ranger star pitcher Derek Holland. Fisher beat out steady senior Aaron Moody, who plays receiver and defensive back.

Fans are curious about East’s next skill crop. Strong 6-2 Josh Conard is the new go-to receiver. He comes in motion at times, to carry the ball. He looked sharp Saturday. Trey McClure, a 220-pound power back with burst, had a long run. Jacob Quisenberry is another straight-ahead runner. Slender sophomore Nick Lyons is a speedster, and got by Owen into the end zone. Whitt “tweaked” the East spread, and also uses a “power set.” He said, “we’re going to grind it out, and also throw it around to keep you honest.”

Offensive Coordinator Jeff Floyd and Ballard said to expect a healthy pass-run balance. When East throws, look for such targets as Conard, elusive Nykeem Brooks and Markel Davis, also Ben Comeens, Sam Hargrove and tight ends Jesse Rogers and Keyon Pippon.

The “aggressive” 5-2-based defense relies on “gap control” and pursuit with much “slanting and moving, blitzing and twisting,” Whitt said. He said oft-blitzing rover Hargrove typifies Eagles as a “good open-field tackler. Sam has a motor. He gets after people. We also drop him into the flats, for pass coverage — which he does very well.” Other LB-DE include Aaron Messer, Joe Anderson, McClure, Steven Ours and Cameron Johnson. The secondary includes Drake Baldwin.

“We want to be physical, hard-hitting,” Coach Whitt said. “Our strength is up front. We’re excited about our overall potential. We talk about bringing the conference championship back to East Flat Rock.”

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