CHAPEL HILL — Fans watching Chapel Hill High School line up for the 2013 football season will notice something different right away about the Tigers.
T.J. Johnson wont be under center.
Johnson, a three-year starter at quarterback who led Chapel Hill to a combined 19-7 record and first-round playoff wins the past two years, is now at St. Augustines in Raleigh.
T.J. won several times for us with big plays late in the game, Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh said as he prepared to welcome the Tigers back for the start of 2013 practices. But it wasnt just the big things he did that were important. Were going to miss all the little things he did right, too.
The little things, Marsh said, will determine how well Chapel Hill does this season. The Tigers lost 20 seniors and 14 of 22 starters off last years 9-4 team, including Johnson, All-American defensive back Alex Duncan (now at the Naval Academy), and five other key members of the defense linebackers Brad Randall and Kendall Simms, two-way starter Eddie Burgard, and tackles Alex Colson and Brian James.
Chapel Hill still has a cornerstone upon which to build all-conference running back Darius Allen but this will be one of the youngest teams Marsh has coached in his nine years at the helm.
While Johnsons graduation may be the most significant loss for the Tigers, quarterback is the one position where Marsh has the most options. His three candidates: juniors Grant Deselm and Luke Christy, and sophomore Jacob Guskiewicz.
Deselm was named all-conference in 2012 as a punter and got some playing time at quarterback, as did Christy. Guskiewicz was the starting quarterback last year for the junior-varsity.
Each brings a different strength to the competition to see who will start the first game.
Deselm may be the best athlete of the three able to play at quarterback, receiver and punter and can scramble effectively when needed. Christy reads defenses extremely well, Marsh said, and can put the ball wherever he aims. Guskiewicz has a very strong arm and can get the ball down the field.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, hell be working with new offensive coordinator Adam Sanders, who replaces 12-year coach Ricky Bynum. And he can expect Allen at running back to jump-start the offense.
Darius is one of those players whos been able to stay under the radar most of the time in the Triangle, and thats been a good thing for us because people didnt see him coming, Marsh said. But, before this season is over, hes going to make his name known.
For that to happen, some of the younger offensive linemen will have to find their place along the handful of veterans Chapel Hill has returning.
All-conference guard Logan Tisch (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) is back, as is potential all-conference offensive lineman Joey Raines (6-foot-5, 235 pounds).
I was talking with Milek Jackson (5-foot-11, 235 pounds) in the weight room, Marsh said, and I was just reminding him that well be relying on the offensive and defensive line this year. Well need them to open some running lanes for Darius for us to be successful.