Michael Carter, Conway Christian’s football coach and athletic director, hopes this season is a continuation of the building process and not complete rebuilding.
The Eagles lost 13 players to graduation, a couple some of the best athletes in school history, off a team that won eight games, challenged for a conference title and won the first playoff game in school history.
“Having to replace 13 seniors at our school is a lot of kids,” said Carter.
All 13 players lost were starters and eight were two-way starters.
Depth will be a question for the second smallest team playing 2A football.
“The people we’ve got are very good; there are just not very many of them. We can’t afford to lose anyone.”
Carter found some encouragement in the summer work and 7-on-7.
“We did pretty well in 7-on-7; we played in four and got to the semifinals in every one,” he said. “And we had a new person at every position. We do 7-on-7 to learn how to compete.”
The Eagles lost two of the most prolific offensive players in history (quarterback Tanner Stevenson and wide receiver Caleb Dather), who combined for more than 8,000 yards in their careers.
Chandler Ferrand moves from a wide receiver position to take over at quarterback. The Eagles have tweaked their offense a bit to accommodate his skills.
““We’ve be more of a read-option team,” Carter said. “Chandler has a good arm but is more of a runner.”
Junior running backs Ancil Lea and Josiah Smith will be more involved in the offense. Sophomore Jaycob Henry gives the Eagles more depth at running back than they’ve had in the past. Jon Mark Wood, another sophomores, adds versatility since he can operate at wide receiver, running back or quarterback.
Bryon Pascoe and Casey Roark are the top wide receivers.
CCS returns four offensive starters.
Caleb Dather, Andrew’s brother will lead the Eagles in the offensive line.
Noah Bowman starter every game at right guard and is another leader up front. John Clay and Lance Holden are slated to be the tackles.
Defensive has historically been a weak spot at Conway Christian.
“We improved every year,” said Carter. “I wouldn’t say we have a great defense, but we’re better. Depth is an issue.
Dather, an all-state end last season, was the leading tackler with 76 and five sacks plus a blocked punt.
“He is probably the best offensive and defensive lineman I’ve ever coached,” said Carter.
Clay and Holden will be the tackles. Bowman will line up at end.
Sophomore Carter Bramlett has earned a spot at linebacker along with Roark, junior Chase Kehler and sophomore Carter Free.
Pascoe, a top defensive performer last season, should be a leader in the secondary. Will Callaway and Andrew Steely add experience to an area that could be a strength. “I feel Pascoe and Steely are the best cornerbacks we’ve every coached,” said Carter.
Do the Eagles have enough depth to complete solidly over the long haul, particularly with several key conference games at the end of the season?
YOU MAY NOT KNOW
Of the Eagles’ eight wins last season, they scored 40 or more points in seven.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Caleb Dather plays a different position (offensive and defensive line) than his brother, Andrew (record-setting wide receiver) but he could become another college prospect in the family. At end, he’s a mainstay of the defense and he will be vital to the Eagles’ rushing attack.
“He’s actually a perfect tight end, but we don’t have enough linemen,” said Carter.