Leesville Road is touted as a front-runner among area teams this, year, but coach Chad Smothers says the Pride needs several young players fill holes in order to be successful.
The defending Cap Eight 4A champion returns three starters on defense and four on offense.
“We haven’t experienced since 2005 a balanced loss of starters on both sides of the ball as we are this year,” Smothers said. “Both sides of the ball will have to progress equally, and it’s going to have to be rapid.”
Leesville averaged nearly 40 points per game last season while holding opponents to less than 19. The Pride (12-1, 7-0 Cap Eight) went undefeated before falling 56-35 at Garner in the third round of the N.C. 4AA playoffs.
Leesville, one of the area’s top rushing offenses (310.4 yards per game), was anchored by national standout Braxton Berrios, who will be a four-year starter on offense and defense.
“Braxton’s a very talented young man,” Smothers said. “He has some God-given ability, and he doesn’t just rely on his God-given ability. … He’s an excellent team player. He’ll play anywhere we put him and will not question. He understands what we’re trying to do.”
Berrios (87.8 rushing yards per game and 58.9 receiving yards per game) will continue to move throughout the Pride’s rotation, playing several positions, Smothers said.
“That’s two-fold,” Smothers said.” The productivity of Braxton is key for us to be successful. There’s no downplaying that at all, but on the flip side, if teams concentrate too much on Braxton, we have some other guys who can make plays, too.”
The Pride return seniors Brock Pyper and Malcolm Hitchcock, whom Smothers expects to be bright spots on offense.
Hitchcock (20.1 receiving yards per game) could also see time at quarterback , along with junior Mason Pyper as the Pride look to fill the quarterback slot for the third time in as many years.
On the offensive line, Leesville boasts two-year starters Alex Butler and Chris Pendergraft at center and left tackle, respectively. Senior Brian Henriquez (6-foot-4, 325 lbs.), a transfer from Indiana, will play right tackle.
“The key will be younger players stepping up at a rapid pace and staying healthy,” Smothers said. “If we get junior and sophomores that are stepping into key roles to get better each and every week, I think we can have a successful year.”