Young Word of God rebuilds in eight-man football

tstevens@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

Ravenscroft's Avery Edwards (9) looks for running room in game against Cardinal Gibbons High on Sept. 7, 2012.

GREG MINTEL — 2012 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO Buy Photo

Raleigh Word of God reached the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association eight-man football championship game for the third consecutive season last fall, but lost to Southampton (Va.) Academy in the title game.

The Rams finished 10-2, with both losses coming against the Raiders – a 40-34 regular-season loss and a 56-28 championship loss less than a month later to the Virginia school, which plays football in the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association.

Otherwise, Word of God was dominant, piling up 45.1 points per game and topping 50 or more points five times.

The Rams have gone 34-2 over the past three years, but has no returning seniors and will field their youngest team ever. Junior quarterback Zachary Jackson, wide receiver Derrick Daniels and lineman Kendall Nichols are expected to play key roles.

Sophomore Steven Brown, a transfer from Knightdale, may be the primary runner.

“This is the youngest team we have had,” coach Kevin Washington said. “With no seniors, we are building.”

Cary Christian was 7-4 in 2012 and lost in the NCISAA eight-man semifinals to eventual champion Southampton.

Three-year defensive end starter Chris Thomas is back after leading the team in tackles and sack leader Zach Wharton returns as well. Rusher Austin Hellman and receiver Reid Thomas also are back.

St. David’s, which lost to Word of God 24-20 in their annual showdown, may be improved. The offense returns fullback Reef Ivey, quarterback William Wamper and wide receiver Braxton Montague.

“We had some games last year that could have gone either way,” coach Wes Wilder said. “Hopefully, we will step up and have some of those games go our way this season.”

Big East Independent Football Conference

NCISAA playoff berths are determined by a seeding committee, so non-conference games are important, especially for Ravenscroft, whose primary competition for a Division I playoff berth comes from Charlotte-area schools.

Ravenscroft returns 19 starters from a club that was an uncharacteristic 4-7 in 2012. Injuries and inexperience helped lead to one of the most inconsistent seasons in coach Ned Gonet’s 33-year career at the school.

The Ravens’ offense might score 40 points one night, as it did five times, or be shut out, as it was against Franklinton. The defense might play well or it might give up 40 or more points, as it did five times, including an 86-49 season-ending loss to Harrells Christian.

“We didn’t do a good enough job in teaching the fundamentals,” Gonet said. “You can’t get to C unless you go by A and B. We didn’t do the basics well last year and we were exposed at times.

“But this is an experienced team this year. We’ve been able to accelerate some things and we’ve really worked on getting better individually and as a team.”

Jamie Herakovich (1,462 passing yards) returns and can throw to Avery Edwards (6-5, 228), one of the state’s top tight end prospects and a University of North Carolina recruit.

The line has veterans Mike Fagan (6-3, 310), Jarron Ormond (6-2, 280) and Alex Nesvisky (6-2, 260).

North Raleigh Christian passed for 2,221 yards and 33 touchdowns during its 9-3 campaign in 2012 but graduated the bulk of its skilled offensive personnel.

John Landis is expected to be the trigger man this season. Wide receiver Daniel Rose (29 catches, 440 yards). and lineman William Schubert are among the few returning starters. Receiver/safety James Wilson, defensive lineman Jacob Mize and linebacker Tripp Norris also are back.

“We graduated 14 seniors,” North Raleigh coach Rich Landis said. “We will be young and have several key areas to fill.”

Wake Christian (2-10) returns quarterback Beau Barger, the club’s leading rusher and passer with 401 rushing yards and 902 passing yards. Junior linebacker Luke Ryals also is back for new coach Stephen Cochran.

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