CHAPEL HILL — East Chapel Hill is anticipating some big changes for its 2013 football season.
The Wildcats have been busy this summer working out in the weight room and attending 7-on-7 passing games, and first-year head coach Jon Sherman likes what he sees.
“We have a lot of new faces, especially on the offensive line and defensive line,” Sherman said recently. “We’re a lot bigger. Right now, with the people we have, we’re averaging 289 (pounds) up front.
That’s been unheard of at East Chapel Hill before this year. Just four years ago, the Wildcats started a player at defensive tackle who weighed less than 175 pounds.
Sherman credits former coach Bill Renner for some of the team’s new found size and depth. Renner helped change the football culture at East Chapel Hill, which still has never had an overall winning season.
But in Renner’s third year, the Wildcats finished the regular season at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the PAC-6 Conference – the first time ever that East Chapel Hill broke even.
“Faith is an important part of this,” Sherman said. “Coach Renner did a great job with that. He made football important at East.”
Last year’s playoff appearance garnered some attention for the East Chapel Hill program, and that’s attracted some more talented athletes.
Notably, two of East’s better baseball players – Josh Baldwin and Jack Hankins – have been working out with the football team this summer. Sherman can already see where to play both of them.
Hankins would fit in well at free safety, splitting time there with junior Justin Douglas, and would be an excellent addition to the receiving corps, Sherman said. Baldwin could play on either the offensive or defensive line. So could all-conference lineman Chris Alston.
“Some guys will play both ways this year,” Sherman said in a significant departure from Renner’s philosophy. Renner emphasized a single-platoon system to the point that the offense and defense sometimes took separate busses to road games.
Inside linebacker Ian Levin could take some snaps at quarterback. Colby Owens, East’s top returning running back, may see action at defensive end. Like Baldwin, many of the linemen could play some on both offense and defense.
Part of Renner’s legacy that remains intact is an emphasis on the quarterback. Even with the departure of Adam Bussian, East has three players in the mix competing for playing time at QB.
Connor Stough, a product of the Orange County Pop Warner program, arrived in 2012 ready to play his freshman year. He ended up as a starting quarterback after injuries took their toll on the Wildcats. Freshman Bayter Garber “had a really good year at quarterback for Culbreth,” and Levin gives East some depth at quarterback, Sherman said.
Bussian, who started much last year at quarterback for the junior varsity, moved into the Carrboro High school district and is fighting for a spot there.
Bussian would have given East more competition at quarterback, Sherman noted, something he would have preferred.
“Competition at every position is something a coach wants to see,” Sherman said. “It brings out the best in players.”
Sherman believes the Wildcats have developed a more aggressive attitude after last year’s playoff experience.
“I’m used to winning seasons,” said Sherman, who grew up playing in the success-laden atmosphere of Florida high school football. “Now our players have made the playoffs, and they know they can do it again.