In terms of style points, don’t expect Sickles to contend for the county scoring title in 2013. As long as the offensive and defensive fronts remain healthy, the Gryphons could be wildly vanilla and victorious.
Coach Brian Turner isn’t secretive about his plans to run 1,300-yard rusher Ray Ray McCloud frequently behind right tackle Zach Hudson (6-foot-5, 280 pounds), right guard Deandre Mclean (6-1, 275) and 215-pound tight end Chett Levay. Hudson, Turner’s nephew, already has three Division I offers. Mclean’s freakish wingspan allows him to scratch his knees without bending over.
“I’ll run behind those three all day,” Turner said. “We think that we have four (offensive linemen) better than we had last year. We’re one short.”
On the other side, veteran Gryphons defensive coordinator Kirk Karsen is stoked about the potential of ends Josh Black (70 tackles, seven sacks) and Deven Santana (71 tackles, six sacks), and nose tackle Kareem Blair, who missed most of the 2012 season with a right knee injury.
Yet Karsen’s plight — depth — is the same as his boss’.
“The three of them, they’re gonna give a lot of people trouble this year,” said Karsen, who will employ a 3-4 base look. “They’re the best defensive line we’ve had here. We’re just missing that fourth pass rusher.”
It has been almost six months and Gaither quarterback Alex McGough still can’t shake the memory of walking off the field on the wrong end of a 52-7 loss to Newsome in their Class 7A region quarterfinal.
It might have been one of the most surprising outcomes of the season locally, with the 7A-7 champions suffering a 6½-touchdown defeat at home to a district runnerup that entered the game 6-4.
Few were more surprised than McGough and the Cowboys.
“I definitely underestimated them,” said McGough, a rising senior and top college prospect. “I watched film on them and didn’t see that coming. But I took it as a learning experience.”
The Cowboys are learning all around this spring, trying to find replacements for a team that lost 23 seniors — about a dozen of them starters. Gaither was hit especially hard on offense, with McGough the team’s leading returning rusher (236 yards) and no receiver coming back who had more than six receptions.
But coach Jason Stokes believes the Cowboys are prepared to rebound, all part of his belief that Gaither can become “Plant North”; he offers visitors a full page of college prospects from the upcoming senior class.
“The next man up has to be ready to go so we don’t miss a beat,” Stokes said. “We’ve got to reload. This is a real good chance for us to earn some respect.”
Earn is the operative word. For Stokes, a former defensive coordinator at Riverview and assistant at Bloomingdale, that 45-point loss to Newsome is a constant reminder to his players that respect only comes with results.
“We have to take every game serious,” Stokes said. “These kids took it for granted and paid the price: we got skull-drug up and down the field.”
Only one ‘B’ in Buccaneer
Berkeley Prep tight end Jared Shimberg, perhaps the most prominent college prospect of the Buccaneers’ rising senior class, fears he may be on the verge of receiving the first B of his high school career — in advanced-placement calculus. An Ivy League prospect and three-year letterman, Shimberg (6-4, 245) has played nearly every spot on the offensive line, including long snapper. He’ll anchor a unit projected to be a team strength after a rebuilding phase in 2012. “Our offensive linemen coming back, they’ve all played,” coach Dominick Ciao said.
“We’re not sitting back and expecting the same thing to work. We’re adding new things offensively and defensively, always trying to be a step ahead because people are going to be prepared. It’s not going to be the exact same thing, but we do feel like with our quarterback and our receivers that are coming back, we’ll still have some success throwing the ball.” — Strawberry Crest coach John Kelly, whose West Coast-style passing attack accounted for more than 220 yards a game last season. The Chargers, 1-9 in 2011, finished 4-6 in ’12.
Photo: Deandre Mclean and Zach Hudson
Compiled by staff writers Joel Anderson and Joey Knight.