GARNER — The News & Observers top-ranked high school football team is Garner.
The Trojans return half of their starting lineup from a team that finished 15-1 and was the state 4AA runner-up last season. Those players are about as seasoned as a high school player can get, playing basically an extra half-season en route to the championship game.
Garner has a proven quarterback, experienced offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers and one of the most proven coaching staffs in the state.
Even with those resume bullet points and a few key new additions, the leaders have a problem. They need leaders on the field.
The thing were looking for more than anything else are leaders, said coach Nelson Smith. Thats the one thing we need most, the big question. The senior, experienced players we have right now are not talkers.
Do those guys step up? Or is it another sophomore, junior or senior who steps up in the huddle?
Garners returning talent on offense has one potential unknown, running back. Garner graduated players with 3,700-plus yards rushing and 51 rushing TDs from its state championship team.
Smith said the competition for the tailback spot is solid with holdovers Raevon Smith, Tyler Hinton and Samuel Stidwell vying for time, along with Nyheim Hines, a transfer from Leesville Road.
Smith started in the defensive backfield for Garner last year with playing time limited in the backfield due to the presence of Juwan Moye and Demetrius Fairley. Hinton and Stidwell had limited time at running back.
Garner football is about running the football about 60 percent of the time, Smith said. Were still going to be a team that has to establish the run, then mix in the pass.
Quarterback isnt an issue with Vince Jefferies back at the helm.
The playoffs really helped him, Smith said of Jefferies. (That experience) helped all of our guys, but nobody as much as it did Vince. You cant help but get better when youre playing against the kind of defenses you see late in the playoffs.
Jefferies had his most productive game in the eastern 4AA playoffs against Fayetteville Britt, throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
An experienced offensive line will lead the way in front of Jeffries with starters Anthony Galavotti and Blair Doak returning, along with tight ends Terry Gillman and Tim Thorb. Dillon Counts and Darius Hooper got starting time in the offensive line last year, too.
Tom Dutcher, a transfer from New York, could develop into a key line contributor.
Receivers Armani Lanier and Brayden Sims bring plenty of experience as well.
Defensively, Garners strength is in the front seven with starters Bernard Owens and Tyler Starowicz back on the line and Thorb and Jeremie Bolobiongo at linebacker.
With Raevon Smith likely to see more time on offense, the defensive backfield is another area of early concern. Hines, Michael Jenkins, Tre Perry and Stidwell will likely see time in the secondary.
The two toughest positions to coach and get ready are offensive line and defensive back, Smith said. The secondary isnt experienced. Theyre all good athletes; its just about getting experience. They just need playing time.
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