Quality over quantity
Class 1A, Region 4
Coach Mike Harris (16-35 in five seasons at Verbena)
Last year 3-7 regular season, 2-5 region
Key losses RB Scott McCary, RB Tyler Kelley, DE Leonard McGaskin, OL Spencer Moore
9/12 at Notasulga*
9/19 at Loachapoka*
10/10 at Talladega Co. Central*
10/24 at Winterboro*
10/31 at Marbury
* region game
Key game Thorsby. Sure, it’s the first game of the season and it’s not even a region matchup. But the outcome of this game will go a long way toward determining how the Red Devils’ season will go.
Key player Jason Ray, center and defensive tackle. Verbena doesn’t have a whole lot of speed, so any success they have will come as a result of controlling the line of scrimmage. Ray can be the area’s best line of scrimmage controller.
With only 20 players on the roster, and only three of those seniors, Verbena isn’t going to impress anyone with numbers.
But what the Red Devils lack in quantity they hope to make up for in quality.
The lack of depth creates problems not only during the season but also while preparing for it. Without enough players to line up two squads against each other, Verbena has been unable to create the kind of practice situations Harris would like.
“We haven’t been able to hit,” Harris said. “I was worried about our intensity.”
The status of junior Brad Boswell, the starter going into last season, was uncertain this offseason, so Verbena coach Mike Harris had to practice other players there. Boswell will play, so the Red Devils all of a sudden have some depth at the position. Junior Brandon White will see playing time as a change of pace from the pass-minded Boswell. White is perhaps the team’s best athlete.
White and junior Kelly Lucas are the team’s wingbacks, but the most impressive part of the backfield might be new fullback Marshall McGaskin. The 6’4”, 234-pound junior is a converted tackle and could be difficult to tackle once he becomes familiar with the position.
“He’s still trying to learn how to run right now,” Harris said.
Senior Austin Daniel has
plenty of experience here, and freshman Bay Lucas does not. Both should make plenty of plays, though, if the quarterbacks
can get them the football.
Four starters return for this unit. Sophomore right tackle Garrett Dennis, junior center Jason Ray, junior left guard Johnta Gaston and junior
Taylor Proctor all return to starting roles if not the same positions as last season. Ray’s move from tackle to center could be the biggest cause of improvement.
“We had problems at center last year, and we figured he’s about the best we’ve got,” Harris said. “He’s done a good job for us. I think he can really be something special.”
Ray will be the story here, also. A 6’1”, 308-pound defensive tackle, Ray usually dominates whoever lines up across from him whether he’s on offense or defense.
“He might be a little better on defense because he can turn loose and go,” Harris said.
At 6 feet and 295 pounds, senior nose tackle Jonathan Dennis isn’t far behind Ray.
Kelly Lucas and Christopher Gore will play inside linebacker. McGaskin and Gaston will play outside, pressuring the quarterback as often as they drop into coverage.
Bay Lucas brings top-notch speed to this unit, and Daniel packs much more punch than his frame would indicate. White will play free safety, and Dustin Short is the likely candidate at strong safety.
McGaskin will kick off while Blaine Thacker will placekick. Either Bay Lucas or Daniel will line up deep in the punt formation, and Daniel and White will be the primary return men.