McCrory coach Chris Kennon isn’t ready to consider his team one of Class AA’s best, but he won’t have to wait long to find out where they stand.
The Jaguars open the season at Carlisle and then are at home against Hazen, two teams that went a combined 17-6 in 2012 and are picked to finish atop the 6-2A Conference. Both teams also return a bevy of starters, making it a daunting task for any team, not just McCrory.
“Talk about a way to start the season,” Kennon said. “We’re talking about two really good, really experienced teams that we’re opening up against. We’re a young group ourselves.
“With that, we’re going to have to grow up real quick right out of the gate.”
On top of those two, McCrory will still have to navigate through the 3-2A Conference, where league preseason favorites Salem and East Poinsett County are expected to make deep postseason runs.
But the second-year coach believes his group, albeit a young one, has what it takes to be a “very good team” if things continue to go the way they have during workouts.
“We’re expecting to be pretty good,” Kennon said, “but the season is up in the air as to how it may go. We’re a young team with only four seniors, and you never know how youth will affect a group on Friday nights.
“The kids did a good job of getting in shape over the summer. The conditioning is where it needs to be, but you just never know with such a young team.”
McCrory had a successful campaign in 2012, finishing the season with a 6-4 record and a spot in the playoffs. The Jaguars were outscored 40-32 by Conway Christian in a first-round defeat, but Kennon brings back a number of players who were a part of that success.
The Jaguars return 13 starters, including six from an offense that averaged 31 points per game, including putting up a staggering 155 total points over the final three games of the regular season.
A pair of sophomores will have to lead the way if McCrory is going to continue that type of offensive prowess. Quarterback Cade Campbell (5-11, 170) and running back Kaigen Rogo (5-10, 165) were the ring leaders for a junior-high group that went undefeated during a two-year span.
“Cade is going to give us a chance to do some things offensively through the air,” Kennon said. “He’s got a pretty strong arm and will be able to throw it around some. And Kaigen is definitely going to carry the load for us at running back.
“He’s a very gifted athlete.”
Senior Damian Ford (5-11, 180), who doubles at defensive back, will also help out at running back some, as will juniors Dylan Holiday (5-8, 190) and Shyheim Woods (5-10, 180).
The wide receivers should be among the team’s strong points with Chase Whitehead (6-0, 190) set for a breakout sophomore season.
Senior left tackle Logan Briley (6-3, 240) and juniors Malik Freeman (5-7, 215) and Rhett Martin (5-11, 265) lead the way on the offensive line for the Jaguars.
“We’re going to need those guys,” Kennon said. “Briley is a very physical, very strong guy. That entire group is pretty aggressive, and that’s what we’re going to need.”
Defensively, Martin, Freeman and Briley shore up a unit that was up and down last season. Kennon is also anticipating a huge season from junior Marquese Hampton (6-2, 230).
Senior Chris Rayner (6-0, 185) and junior Holiday, whom Kennon said run sideline-to-sideline “extremely well,” combined for 131 tackles from their linebacker slots last fall.
The defensive secondary will be young but full on talent, particularly with Rogo at free safety and Whitehead at strong safety.
“We’re ready to go,” Kennon said. “For us, either everything is going to go well, or everything is going to go bad. We’ve got to stay healthy, though.
“With 29 guys, that’s very important. But we’re going to try to open some eyes this year.”