School: J.J. Kelly
Coach: B.I. Salyers
2006 record: 4-6, 2-5
Offensive starters back: 7
Defensive starters back: 6
WISE — J.J. Kelly took its licks last season in the Lonesome Pine District.
But the Indians did progress — in both overall and district wins — and coach B.I. Salyers expects this year to be no different.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve slowly gotten better each year,” Salyers said. “Last year, we had a lot of excitement around the program. The kids started believing in themselves, and that’s one thing that had been hindering us.
“I’m excited for this season, and so are the kids.”
Much of that excitement stems from the number of returning offensive starters.
Nearly every skill position player is back, including quarterback Matt Dotson and halfback Devan Sproles.
“Devan’s a heck of a player and he’s definitely going to be one of our workhorses on offense,” Salyers said. “On defense, he’s our leader. (He’s) just a player that leads by showing everyone else what he can do.”
Also returning to the fold is Jeremy Gilliam, who is moving from fullback to wingback. Taking over Gilliam’s previous duties is someone with plenty of experience — albeit at a different school.
Former Pound standout Chris Strouth steps in at fullback. Strouth, a senior, was a second team All-LPD pick with the Wildcats last season.
Outside the backfield, things are fairly familiar as well. Tight end Zac Clifton is a returnee, as is split end Blake Shouse.
“We’re pretty blessed,” Salyers said. “We have the capability to make some noise.”
That, most likely, will hinge on how quickly they can master Salyers’ new wing-T set. And, perhaps more importantly, how well the offensive line can mesh.
Only guard Austin Crabtree (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) and center Clint Stone (5-8, 265) started a season ago. Joining them this year will be Deven Miller, Ben Marks and Cody Williams.
“The big thing we’ve got to look at is our offensive line,” Salyers said. “We’ve got a lot of younger kids. They’re babies and have to grow up in a hurry.”
Defensively, the Indians are sticking with the 3-5 installed a season ago.
Miller is the lone returner up front, with Crabtree joining him at end and Will Strength — who has impressed in summer workouts — slotting in at nose tackle.
All three inside linebackers are back — Sproles, Clifton and Jeremy Vanover. Chris Dotson and Strouth form an all-new outside duo.
In the secondary, Matt Dotson moves to safety. Jordan Bates and Adam Bentley are unproven at the corners.
Salyers feels one factor for the Indians this season may be their new-look coaching staff. Robert Bentley has joined after serving on the staff at J.I. Burton. Jason Mullins has also come on board after a stint as Pound’s head coach.
“I really feel like I have a good coaching staff,” Salyers said. “(If) there’s no stability in your coaching staff, things are tough on you.”
As for whether the Indians are ready to take the next step, Salyers says yes — depending on what the definition of “next step” is.
“We want to be competitive week in and week out,” Salyers said. “That’s where I want to be and where I want this program to be.”