08/22/11 — FOOTBALL TAB -- Expectations follow Tigers' program

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FOOTBALL TAB -- Expectations follow Tigers' program

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 22, 2011 1:47 PM

This offseason has largely mirrored those of seasons past at James Kenan.

The expectations are there in the form an eighth-place ranking in the NCPreps.com state 1-A pre-season poll. The talent is back with nine returning starters, including senior quarterback Parker Jones.

What isn't so certain is how several untested underclassmen, particularly on defense, will perform once the bright lights of Friday nights turn on and the games begin to count.

The Tigers lost seven starters off a defense that held opponents to 11 points a game in 2010. The good news for Kenan is that linebacker and third-leading tackler Raheim Phillips, who recorded 60 tackles last season, is back. Linebacker AJ Frederick, and defensive linemen Jaime Gonzalez and Jaylan Williams also return.

Kenan head coach Ken Avent Jr. has preached aggressiveness and forcing turnovers to his players during summer practices. The Tigers finished with just eight interceptions and four forced fumbles a year ago. During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Kenan combined to pick of 29 passes and force 34 fumbles. The Tigers went 28-1 during that stretch and captured the 2007 N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (large-school) state championship.

The Tigers started multiple freshmen and sophomores defensively during a recent scrimmage, and how that unit will mesh together during the regular season remains to be seen.

"We had three sophomores and two freshmen starting on defense in a scrimmage," said Avent Jr. "It was kind of scary. We've got to get back to creating turnovers and getting the ball back. I think that comes with being physical. When we were really good, we created turnovers."

Jones is one of five returning offensive starters, and the dual-threat quarterback threw for 1,430 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions a year ago while leading Kenan to a 7-6 record and a second-round appearance in the state playoffs. He also rushed for 627 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Devon Best, the Tigers' third-leading rusher in 2010, returns along with Frederick and Daniel Bostic at wide receiver. Despite rushing for more than 2,700 yards with 43 touchdowns as a team last season, Avent Jr. believes Kenan can develop a more consistent ground attack behind a rebuilt offensive line.

"We've got lot of new faces on the offensive line and the way it looks like so far our depth is not really that great," said Avent Jr. "We've got to be able to run the ball against good defenses. Last year we weren't able to establish the run in the games we lost. If people are able to stop our pass we've got to be able to run the ball."

The Tigers have gone 4-3 in the always tough Tri-County 1-A Conference in each of the past two seasons. Conference opponents Hobbton, Midway and defending 1-A (small-school) state champion Wallace-Rose Hill all visit Warsaw this season.

"It's going to be tough," said Avent Jr. "That's what we talk about with our players. You can not have a night where you don't play your best and you can expect to win. You've got to be prepared every night to play good or you're not going to win."

Kenan opens the season Friday at home against Southern Wayne.