Prep football preview: Defense 'top priority' for No. 15 Clayton

jgreen@newsobserver.comAugust 3, 2012 

ClaytonSSSFootball2-20101105-MTM

Clayton coach Gary Fowler, center, is congratulated by players Chris Petty, left, and Demage Bailey, right after winning his 200th with a victory over Smithfield-Selma.____PHOTOS BY MICHAEL McLOONE

MICHAEL MCLOONE — MICHAEL MCLOONE - newsobserver.c

  • N&O preseason football rankings (2011 record) 1. Aug. 11 2. Aug. 11 3. Aug. 10 4. Aug. 10 5. Aug. 9 6. Aug. 9 7. Aug. 8 8. Aug. 8 9. Aug. 7 10. Aug. 7 11. Aug. 6 12. Aug. 6 13. Aug. 5 14. Aug. 5 15. Clayton; 5-7 16. Panther Creek; 8-4 17. Broughton; 5-6 18. Bunn; 9-4 19. Southern Durham; 7-4 20. Knightdale; 4-6

— – Veteran head football coach Gary Fowler says the Clayton football team hasn’t played good defense in the last four years.

He wants that to change this season.

“My big emphasis this year is that defense is our first priority and we are going to have to have some of our skill people playing both sides of the ball,” said Fowler, whose Clayton squad finished 5-7 overall and lost in the first round of the state playoffs to New Bern for the second year in a row. “On offense, you can finesse. But I am sorry – defense is just an attitude. You have got to want to play defense, and it’s getting harder to find people who want to work hard on that side of the ball.”

Clayton will return to a 3-4 style of defense this year. Only two linemen return – Demage Bailey and Connor Barbour.

The Comets are working with Jace Brown, Willy Jacques and Raleigh Gilbert inside and Anthony Myers and Evan Bradshaw outside.

“Our inside linebackers don’t have the experience,” Fowler noted. “Anthony and Evan played some last year but they are still relatively untested outside.”

Clayton’s secondary, a year older, could be a strength, Clayton’s coach said. The Comets have Anthony Gaskins, Harris and Kevin Peppers back from last year’s squad.

“We want to get our games back in (the) teens,” he said. “We want to be able to control the ball on offense and not make mistakes, play good defense and have a good kicking game. It’s what we call brother in law – helping each other out.”

Clayton’s inexperience also shows on the offensive line. The Comets lost four starters to graduation. Only one, Gabe Lewis, returns. “He is working at center, but he didn’t see a lot of time last season,” Fowler said.

The offensive strength for the Comets should be the backfield, as Brown (fullback) and tailbacks Harris and Tamerick Barbour (son of former Garner/NC State standout and current Clayton offensive coordinator Anthony Barbour) are all back.

“Tam, Cedric and Jace will be the strongest part of our offense,” Fowler said. “But they are also going to have to play defense.”

Clayton will have a new quarterback this year. Left-hander Sam May and Eric Hoy are competing for the job.

The Comets, while not a pass-happy team, have been working on a spread package to better utilize their skill people.

“We are not going to sit there and throw the ball 40 times a game, I can tell you that,” Fowler said. “Our philosophy will be to take what defenses give us. We want to make sure that teams at least prepare for it though.”

Nick Christiansen, a soccer player, returns as the kicker. The punter has not been established.

Green: 919-553-7234

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