High School football countdown: No. 22 Chapel Hill has few returning starters, but has talent to rebuild

ewarnock@newsobserver.comAugust 3, 2013 

Darius Allen in action for Chapel Hill against East Chapel Hill High School on Friday, August 26, 2011.

MARK DOLEJS — newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • N&O Preseason Top 25

    25. Clayton

    24. South Granville

    23. Bunn

    22. Chapel Hill

    21. Aug. 5

— 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 won’t 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. Augustine’s 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 wasn’t just the big things he did that were important. We’re 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 year’s 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 Johnson’s 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, he’ll 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 who’s been able to stay under the radar most of the time in the Triangle, and that’s been a good thing for us because people didn’t see him coming,” Marsh said. “But, before this season is over, he’s 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 we’ll be relying on the offensive and defensive line this year. We’ll need them to open some running lanes for Darius for us to be successful.”

Warnock: 919-932-8743

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