West’s Cody Jackson
Hendersonville and East Henderson have new coaches, and much new skilled talent. North and West Henderson return firepower, but like East had preseason quarterback battles. All four teams look to improve on 2013 marks.
North’s 27-6 upset at HHS in week three was, by far, the biggest local game. The Knights then beat WNC Athletic Conference rivals East and West, to claim the unofficial county crown. West knocked off East, in the Bird Bowl to wrap up their seasons.
Hendersonville (5-7, 3-3 Western Highlands Conference) has the clearest quarterback starter, in dual threat senior Cole Cleary (6-1, 180). Cleary threw for 1,559 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He ran for 1,130 yards (7.3 ypc.) and 12 scores. The fastest (4.4) Bearcat is a sharp, quick decision-maker.
Cleary is daring, doing water-skiing stunts. He is “fearless” on the gridiron, and with “deep” Christian faith, new head coach Eric Gash emphasized. As a leader, Cleary “encourages the young guys, and pushes the older guys.”
Cleary injured the pinky on his right (throwing) hand weeks ago. His doctor estimates Cleary can return for game two, at West, Gash said. “His welfare is our top priority. When he’s cleared to be 100 percent, he’ll back on the field.” Backup QB Michael Schmidt (6-3, 165 jr.) is out a week or so with a concussion, while his brother Bradley Schmidt (6-1, 165 sr.) is the crucial long-term loss. The star possession receiver is apt to miss more than another month, healing from a fractured hip, Gash said. “Those three take up eight roster spots on offense, defense and special teams.”
The Bearcat future at QB will be displayed Friday. The starter is freshman Alex “Bud” Williford (6-0, 175), whom Gash said excelled in the final scrimmage, or quick receiver Tyler Landrum (5-10, 170 jr.). Skill abounds around them with slashing main runner Terrold Gary (5-8, 155 jr.) who gained six yards a carry in ’13, and fast new receivers Jahmel Smith (5-11, 150 sr.) and freshman Tykel Landrum (5-8, 150). Coach Gash said, “we’re young. Barring more injuries, we’ll be competitive.”
The other new local head coach is East Henderson’s John “Mac” McMillan. Choosing between three juniors, he settled on the most mobile quarterback in Austin Pritchard (5-8, 145) who is quick on sprintouts. Pritchard started both scrimmages, against Owen then Roberson. Strong-armed Kyle Frady (6-1, 197) led the WNCAC champ junior varsity in 2013. But Frady is “more valuable” at linebacker, and as the new kicker-punter while Jesse Rogers is injured, “Coach Mac” reasoned. QB Trace Goldsmith (6-2, 200) threw for over 1,100 for the Carolina Wildcats squad of home-schoolers a year ago. He ran hard in scrimmage play.
East (1-10; 1-6 WNCAC) balances fast backs Nykeem Brooks (5-11 1/2, 156 jr.) and Nick Lyons (5-8 1/2, 146 jr.) with power running of Cameron Johnson (6-0 1/2, 170 sr.) and fullbacks Aaron Messer (5-5 1/2, 195 sr.) and Cole Revis (5-10 1/2, 175 jr.), among others. Josh Glynn (5-9 1/2, 150 jr.) is a new downfield threat, joining WR Austin Fisher (5-8, 165 sr.) and tight end Gunnar Harris (6-2 1/2, 200 sr.).
“We’ve competed against two playoff teams,” Coach Mac said of the scrimmages. We’re playing hard.” He hopes to “sneak up on someone” for an inspiring upset.
West Henderson (1-10; 1-6) is the first to declare its week one starting QB. William Crouch (5-9, 160 sr.) led the Falcons in ’13, after initial starter Dustie Fender (5-11, 165 sr.) got hurt. Crouch gets the nod as the better passer, with Fender starting at halfback after an impressive preseason, head coach Paul Whitaker said Saturday. “Dustie has another gear. He can lose some people” in the open field.
SE Taylor Geyer (6-3, 165 sr.) is among tall targets. West mainly runs, and also returns wingback-HB Cody Jackson (5-10, 165 jr.). The fastest Falcon often runs wide, and zigzags on kick returns. HBs-WBs James Murray (5-10, 180 jr.) and Landon Owen (5-9, 150 so.) move up from JV whose only loss was to East in ’13. Owen “has some wiggle, to make you miss,” Whitaker said, and Murray is “another quality back.” The fullback is Brendan Goings (6-0, 194 sr.).
Coach Whitaker is eager to be “in every game, and find a way to win.”
North Henderson (4-7; 3-4) went through three QBs last year, due to injury. Then-senior star Zach Gahagan was lost, then Trevor Craft (6-1, 180 jr.) four weeks later. Another then-sophomore, defensive end Ashton Woodring (6-2, 210 jr.), took over. They will take turns in each game to diversify the offense, head coach Jason Dinwiddie said Sunday night. He said Woodring will have more running plays, Craft more passing chances.
Both are strong-armed, mobile and sturdy. “Ashton has a great feel for the game, and mental toughness. He’s tough as nails,” Dinwiddie said. “Trevor is more comfortable in the pocket. He has poise.” Craft engineered the runaway win at HHS. The rematch is Sept. 12, in Fruitland.
As fastest Knight Dalton Whitaker (5-9, 160 sr.) reasons, the biggest win would be over Roberson in the opener to spark “momentum.” North came within two points of an upset of 4-A TCR, in ’13. Intense Whitaker leads the receiving Dalton Gang of Jacob Garrett (5-9, 160 jr.), Devon Graham (6-2, 160 so.) and Johnny Heim (6-2, 180 sr.). An impact new rusher is aptly named Lejuan Rush (5-10, 190 so.).
Coach Dinwiddie is eager to put a rush into Knights fans with exciting offense, and to “compete for the conference championship.”
The Tribune’s four-week football team series starts next week with North Henderson, with coverage of its opener at home. HHS plays at AHS, WNC’s most touted team. East plays at powerhouse Swain. West travels to Madison. Games start at 7:30 p.m.