News Column

Returning QB, front line expected to pace Carver

August 20, 2014

By Ethan Bernal, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.



Aug. 20--Last season, G.W. Carver had to replace 2012 Mr. Football Jeremy Johnson and integrate a new offensive line, but a veteran corps of receivers eased the burden on offense, and a stout defense kept the Wolverines in games.

This year, the script has been flipped. The Wolverines return all five of their offensive linemen, and quarterback Mike McKenney, but lost their top five receivers and key defensive playmakers to graduation.

Carver coach Billy Gresham is banking on McKenney's leadership and the offensive line's experience to lead the way.

"You win the game up front. You can put pieces around those guys, but to also have a quarterback with the experience that Mike had last year, to return a guy of that caliber, it really makes it easy," Gresham said. "Last year, those senior receivers did a good job of making him look good. This year, he has to do a good job of making these receivers look good. We look for that leadership. We're only going to go as far as he and the offensive line take us."

Youth and injuries on the offensive line last season caused the offense to get off to a sluggish start. Center Isaiah Williams said last year's struggles will lead to success.

"We were young last year, and we got a lot of experience," Williams said. "We took our bumps and bruises, and that made us stronger and helped us come together to become a better offensive line this year."

Replacing Johnson -- who now plays for Auburn -- was no easy task. After battling with Draequon Murphy early in the year, McKenney eventually won the starting quarterback spot.

Carver seniors combined for 2,385 of the Wolverines' 2,656 receiving yards, and 25 of the 30 touchdowns. Ismail Saleem -- a Troy commit who transferred from St. Jude -- will provide McKenney with a speedy target, but he knows the team's success rests on his shoulders.

"I'm just trying to improve on my mistakes from last year. Just watching film and trying to lead my team to a championship," McKenney said. "The difference is, I don't have to work to compete against somebody. I'm competing against myself, and just working to get myself better."

On the defensive side, five-star linebacker Lyndell "Mack" Wilson and safety Melvin Tyus should provide the Wolverine defense the playmaking they're used to. Greenville transfer Marlon Davidson -- a four-star junior -- adds to a defensive line that Gresham said was already the strength of the team.

Even with all of the big names, Gresham said he expects the most from defensive end Ricky Scott Jr., who recorded seven sacks last season.

"We're just going off the coaches and the guys before us who showed us how to play the position and work hard," Scott said. "I think if we keep focused and do what we're doing right now, then we're going to do well during the season."

But Gresham said the biggest challenge for this year is to replace the leadership from linebacker Shaun Hamilton, who's now at Alabama.

"The biggest thing with losing Hamilton is losing that leader. He kind of spoiled us as coaches because he was a student of the game and he made a lot of calls for us," Gresham said. "We're looking for a few of these guys to take over that leadership role. The best thing defensively, we're still returning nine starters. So we have to make sure those guys gel well together, and find out who's going to be that leader."

Carver opens the season with an exhibition against Opelika in the Champions Challenge at Cramton Bowl on Friday. Last year, Opelika defeated Carver 20-7 to hand the Wolverines their first loss of the year.

"Our goal every year -- no matter who we lose or who we have -- is to win a state championship. We tell the guys that the only way we can achieve that is to play tough competition, and what better opportunity to play Opelika, a team that we struggled against last season. To start off the season against those guys, I think it's going to be big -- not only for our season -- but for the program. Especially if we come out the first game and play well like we expect to."

G.W. CARVER WOLVERINES

Region: Class 6A, Region 2

2013: 10-3 (5-2 Class 6A, Region 3)

Coach: Billy Gresham (fourth season, 29-9)

Coordinators: Clinton Smith (offense), Antoine Hill (defense)

Best-case scenario: QB Mike McKenney and LB Lyndell "Mack" Wilson lead the Wolverines through a revamped Class 6A and finally get that elusive state championship.

Worst-case scenario: A strong regular season comes to a heartbreaking end again deep in the playoffs, leaving Carver still seeking a trophy.

2014 SCHEDULE

Friday open

Aug. 29 at Lee-Montgomery

Sept. 5 at Carroll-Ozark

Sept. 12 Northview

Sept. 19 at Stanhope Elmore

Sept. 26 at Prattville

Oct. 2Russell Co.

Oct. 9 Park Crossing

Oct. 17 at Dothan

Oct. 24 at Wetumpka

Oct. 30 at Jeff Davis

2013 RESULTS

Prattville W, 20-7

Central-Phenix City W, 23-11

Jeff Davis W, 39-6

at Opelika L, 20-7

at Tri-Cities (Ga.) W, 50-21

Auburn L, 38-20

Lee-Montgomery W, 19-0

at Smiths Station W, 41-7

at Sidney Lanier W, 63-0

at Anniston W, 41-14

Playoffs

at Blount W, 31-12

Fairhope W, 33-6

at Auburn L, 42-35

___

(c)2014 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)


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