BLUFF CITY — The stands were packed with fans as the band warmed up and the burgers sizzled on the grill.
And it was only media night at Sullivan East.
The Patriots may have suffered through a winless season in 2012, but the exuberance of the Patriot community could not be ignored as another young East squad took the first steps toward redemption.
With just nine seniors on the roster, East will field a young team this year. And there aren’t many names that leap up off the roster and grab your attention.
But East coach Mike Locke said there is plenty of competition for playing time and his players are working hard to get better.
“The attitude of the team has been great,” Locke said. “I’m excited about working with these young men. They’re going to give me everything they’ve got.”
Justin Parks takes over as the starting quarterback this season. The junior was the signal-caller for the JV last season and Locke said he’s ready to step up to the next level.
Parks isn’t the type of running quarterback East has had in years past, but Locke likes the way he harnesses the offense.
“He’s going to manage the offense well for us, but he throws the ball effectively and has some wiggle in him when he takes off,” Locke said.
“I don’t know how much we’re going to ask him to do early on. He’s new to it and we’re building him up as we go on.
“As he gets more comfortable doing things, we’ll ask more of him,” Locked said.
Andrew Todt is the likely starter at fullback, and he’s joined in the offensive backfield by wingbacks Adam Baird, Jamerson Roberts and Ben Botts.
Baird, a senior, started last season. Roberts and Botts are both sophomores.
Dalton Smith, a senior, is a returning starter at the receiver position. He’s joined by Troy Rowlette, a junior, and newcomer Gunner Griffith.
Up front, Nelson Elliott and Nick Austin start at the tight end slots while Hunter Hess and Andrew Lyon are projected to start at the tackles.
Curt Lunceford and Sean Embree are the guards and first-year starter John Jones anchors the line at center.
Locke said finding consistency is the key to success for the offense.
“I see glimpses of good things,” he said. “We’ve got to string some plays together. I talk about it with our guys — the field is 10 yards long. We’ve got to make positive yardage on every play.”
On the other side of the ball, Locke’s goal is to cycle in as many players as possible, especially up front, in order to keep his defense fresh.
Hess and Ryan Malone are seeing time at nose tackle with Embree, Elliott, Lyon, Jones and Hunter Eads cycling in along the defensive front.
Lunceford, Lyon and Austin headline a rotation of linebackers that could include as many as seven players. Griffith, Botts and Dillon McCroskey lead a deep rotation in the secondary.