Major facelift awaits EHS in 2003 season

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com

   Coach Tommy Jenkins of Elizabethton has been spoiled in his first three seasons at the helm of the Cyclone football program.
   After all, he had the luxury of having high caliber players like Walter Brown, who broke a 30-year old rushing record his senior season, Virginia Cavalier signee Vince Redd, and strong-arm quarterback Ryan Curtis to keep the Orange & Black in the thick of the Watauga Conference race.
   Yet coming into spring practice, there were more holes to fill for the fall 2003 season than in a piece of Swiss cheese. Throw into the mix the fact that several of the returning letterman were participants in the regional and state track meet during spring drills and that leaves the Cyclone coaching staff still scratching their heads in search of the missing pieces of the puzzle.
   While several of Elizabethton's counterparts managed to squeeze in a scrimmage or two with other schools, the new edition of the Cyclones have yet to square off against an opponent across the line of scrimmage. North was on the platter, but due to a heavy rain shower on the scheduled date, that scrimmage was canceled.
   "We lost a total of 10 seniors who all contributed heavily to our success the last three years," said Jenkins on Friday afternoon. "We basically are having to look at everybody and see exactly where they can fit into a new offensive scheme for the upcoming season."
   Probably the most missed cog will be Brown, who carried the offensive load during the past season.
   "There's probably not one particular player that can step into Walter's shoes, but we have some fine athletes who will see extensive action in that slot," stated Jenkins. "Lester Bailey and Ben Fields will be seniors who will get a good look, as well as the Bray brothers, Ernie and Jordan."
   Added Jenkins: "It's hard to replace an all-stater that broke a 30-year old record, but we will use a combination of players to see who will step up out of the mix. Having to go to more of a split-back set and running from the veer will also be a change the kids will have to adapt to."
   Graduated QB Ryan Curtis provided offensive coordinator Eddie Pless with a quarterback that could stick the ball in the running back's gut or offer a deep threat in a passing situation. This season Pless will miss the arm of Curtis, but has a promising trio of potential QBs that are ready to take their shot guiding the offensive unit.
   Said Jenkins: "We have seen some good things out of our QB candidates during the spring with Jake Berkley, Charles Peters and Weston Jeffers all bringing something different to the table.
   Berkley is a great running QB while Peters is a super athlete that can run the ball or throw it to one of our receivers. Jeffers probably has the strongest arm of the three and is more of a pocket-type QB, so all three may be getting time under center, depending on the situation."
   With the changing of the guard in the offensive backfield, the short spring season has given the line coaches time to work on new blocking assignments with the grunts in the trenches. The reason for the new assignments was basically driven by the need to diversify their offense to meet the ability of the new talent.
   "Jake Jenkins, Cody Fair, and Daniel Wagner return on the offensive side of the ball and will be responsible for getting the new comers up and rolling," quipped Jenkins. "Our more experienced players will be responsible for making the calls when it comes to blocking assignments at the line."
   On the defensive side of the ball, injuries have slowed starting linemen Cody Bunton and Evan Lindauer, but Jenkins is anticipating having these guys ready come time for the real stuff.
   The line will also be smaller, but don't let the size of players like Clinton Vannoy, Frank Hardy, and Justin Grace be deceiving because these guys are like dynamite wrapped in a small package.
   "Clinton, Frank, and Justin are small as far as stature may go, but they are tough as nails and will flat get after you," noted Jenkins. "Frank took a year off and he has came back with a vengeance to earn a starting position at nose guard as of right now."
   One big man that will missing on Friday nights will be Redd, who will now be shining on Saturday afternoons, but another mammoth player that will be returning is Derrick Nave, who had a tremendous year from his linebacking slot last season. Two other players figuring in right now at linebacker are Kelly Adkins and Jake Jenkins.
   "We really have not settled on anyone definite in the defensive backfield at this point," said Jenkins. "We just can't say just who yet, but the coaches will get together and talk about it over the summer."
   Adam Turley will be looked to set the tone from his safety position, and after bulking up in the weight room will be a menace to opposing players coming anywhere close to him.
   With the graduation of another senior, Michael Porter, at strong safety, Jenkins feels that Peters might just be the Cyclone who will take over that role by the time the first whistle blows for the fall.
   Jenkins feels that even he will bring a different perspective to the program entering his fourth season.
   Said Jenkins: "I am feeling a little bit more comfortable after using the last three years to learn a lot about different aspects of coaching the various positions.
   "I will probably take on a more active role in individual coaching this season. Coach VanHuss, Coach Moore, Coach Perkins, and Coach Hooks have all taught me a lot about the line play and it has been interesting learning about other positions that I really have never played."
   Jenkins reiterated the fact that his philosophy is not to just play a player because he might be a junior or senior, but to play the players that show they want to work hard to become better and earn that spot.
   "I feel like ever player deserves the chance to play, and the players that step up and earn it will get that chance," he said. "I don't care if they are a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, I just want the best player for the position they are working for.
   "At some point, everybody will play. We just have to look at whom we have and match them up with where they belong. If we need to switch, we will do that as well."
   The Cyclones will officially put on the pads and gear on July 29. Jenkins is looking into a possible passing league with some other local schools.
   The passing league is basically where the line isn't present and the game is played either like a flag football or touch football game.
   It will be a long summer for the Cyclone coaching staff as they try to see which areas need to be tucked and what areas will need to be restructured all together. After all, it isn't what one looks like after initially having a facelift that counts; it is what the final product looks like when the swelling goes down.
   Time will tell, but the tradition of Cyclone football is strong enough to make the transition a painless one. Jenkins is confident in the abilities of his players and feels that his coaching staff is one of the best in the league.