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Speed and size are plentiful in the Crittenden County Middle School football camp this season.
If new skipper Bryan Qualls can blend it all together, he projects a successful season.
The Rocket middle schoolers had a disappointing campaign last year, winning just one game.
However, Qualls says success at the junior high level may not always be a servant to the win column.
“To me, it’s all about what we do on Friday nights,” Qualls said, referring to the traditional day when high school games are played. His boys will play most of their games on Tuesdays. The coach says building a successful high school program starts in little league, continues through middle school and culminates in the upper grades.
“Our job is to build the numbers at the middle school level and develop players for high school. If we win in the process, that is a big boost for the kids. It allows them to see success.”
Qualls is a 2005 graduate of the CCHS football program, having played for longtime high school skipper Al Starnes. Qualls was the middle school head coach and high school assistant at Union County before returning to his alma mater last year. He takes over the head coaching controls from Jared Brown, who gave them up in order to concentrate on his new teaching position. Brown will remain on the coaching staff, however.
The team will look to first-time quarterback Gabe Mott for offensive leadership. The team will run an abbreviated form of the spread offense that the high school employs. The middle schoolers will likely be more ground-oriented. Mott has never played a whole lot at the quarterback position. Last year he was a receiver and in little league he was a successful running back. Qualls says his eighth-grade QB has the mentality and skills to be very good at the position.
At running back will Xander Tabor, who got the majority of the carries a year ago. Behind him are a host of seventh graders led by Keifer Marshall. Eighth-grader Lathen Easley will play the hybrid H-back position and classmate Caden McCalister is the Y or tight end. Both are very capable receivers and ball carriers. Chase Stevens is the leading candidate at Z and Douglas Ford at X, both are receiver positions. Seventh-grader Trace Derrington is going to see playing time at receiver, too, Qualls said. The coach also mentioned skilled position players Maddox Carlson, Dalton Wood, Tanner Beverly and Braden Hill, all seventh graders who will add depth to the squad.
The backup quarterbacks are seventh-grader Luke Crider and eighth-grader Noah Perkins.
On the line there are some hefty fellows.
“Most of them are as tall as me and weigh more,” the coach said.
Eighth-graders Preston Turley, Braxton Winders, Tyler Boone and Ian Ellington appear to be leading the race for interior lineman spots. Eighth-grader Ben Dobyns and seventh-grader Ben Evans are one and two, respectively, at center.
The skipper listed a few other boys who will have a chance to play on the frontline. They are eighth-grader Jasper Morrison and seventh-graders Tucker Sharp, Holden Cooksey and Coleman Stone.
Eighth-grader T.H. Nolan, who hasn’t played since little league, has come out for the team and will likely figure into the mix somewhere up front.
“Our eighth grade is loaded with linemen,” Qualls said, and speed and quickness are also available at the skilled positions.
Defensively, the coach says Boone is a key figure. He was a down lineman last year, but moves to inside linebacker.
“Tyler Boone energizes the defense. He loves flying to the ball and loves to be a leader out there,” the coach said.
The linebacking corps is sold with McCalister, Easley and Dobyns figuring into the starting lineup in the 4-4 alignment. Up front, Winders and Turley are working at starting ends and Ellington is a sure bet for one of the tackle spots.
“The other tackle spot is still up in the air,” Qualls said. “Brady Smith can play anywhere up there, but we’re still looking for others.”
Morrison and newcomer Brady Knight may figure into a starting role on the defensive front and seventh-grader Dylan Yates could get work there, too. Stevens, Tabor and Derrington will be regulars at the corners and Mott is the safety.
Qualls hopes to get everyone plenty of playing time as each scheduled event is a doubleheader with the so-called A-team or eighth-grade game first.