If there’s one thing that powers traditional high school football winning programs like Garner from year-to-year, it’s November football. Specifically late November football.
No area team has played more of that brand of the game than the Trojans have the past 30 years.
Garner coach Thurman Leach enters the 2015 season with questions at some positions, but many are not as ominous because those players slated to step into positions vacated by graduating seniors spent an extra month on the practice field (3.8 extra games a season on average over the past five seasons) and played bit parts in games on Friday nights last November.
“When you’re fortunate enough to play 14 or 15 games in a season, you’re getting a full season of work and spring football for those guys who you brought up for the junior varsity squad at the end of the regular season,” Leach said. “And we had a lot of those guys play in big games because of how beat up we got at the end of last season.”
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Garner bowed out to Wake Forest in the 4AA East Regional championship in 2014, but returns a half-dozen starters on both offense and defense.
Yes, the highlight reel and scoring machine that was Nyheim Hines has moved onto N.C. State, but the Trojans will still be all about running the ball first and making big plays in the passing game.
“Everybody’s going to pick up a little bit of what Nyheim did last season,” Leach said. “We win by running the ball, so we’re still going to run the ball.”
Collin Eaddy moves into the starting tailback spot behind senior quarterback Brodie West, who has already made 30 starts in his high school career. Leach says there are other runners who will carry the ball as well, players the Trojans coaching staff has plenty of confidence in.
Another area of high confidence for Garner this season will be the most experienced unit on the defensive side of the ball: the line.
“Our defensive line is going to determine the kind of defense we are,” Leach said. “We have four starters back and feel like we have seven who can play. They all play hard, they all pull for each other and work well together as a unit.”
The starting quartet of Matthew Butler, Desmond Quinerly, Sean Davis and Jaelun Dean average 6-foot-3 and just under 240 pounds per man.
The Trojans will need that unit to thrive early as Garner breaks in an entirely new set of starting linebackers. It’s a group that got some of that valuable November playing time but will be adjusting to larger roles.
Djimon Harris and Juan Manley are back to lead the defensive secondary. Harris will make the flip to the safety position after playing corner last season.
And special teams is another area of strength for the Trojans with proven kicker Noah Giroux and snapper Cody Jones back as well.
There is the matter of replacing Hines’ work as a kick returner, but Leach likes the potential of the options Garner has there.
Contributors: QB Brodie West, TB Collin Eaddy, WR Jarvin Holder, OT Stephen Moore, OG Max Meador, TE/DT Matthew Butler, DE Desmond Quinerly, DT Sean Davis, DE Jaelun Dean, CB Juan Manley, S Djimon Harris, K Noah Giroux, CB/RB Dalton Counts
Base Offense: Pro-I
Base Defense: 4-3
Expected Team Strength: Defensive line. The Trojans return four starters there and feel like they’re as many as seven deep.
Player they’ll miss the most: The one with 7,745 career offensive yards and 126 career touchdowns, of course: Nyheim Hines.
The main number: 12.4 – Garner’s average win total over the past five seasons
The quote: “We feel like we have a little more depth at tailback and fullback,” Leach said. “People outside of this locker room just don’t know them because Nyheim has been back there for three years doing so much of it.”
Game to watch: Sept. 25 at East Wake. The Warriors appear to be the consensus pick of most likely to challenge Garner for the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title this season. Garner will be coming off of a rivalry game with Southeast Raleigh the week before.
Past 5 years
2014: 13-2 (7-0), 4AA regional finalist
2013: 10-4 (4-2), 4AA third round
2012: 14-1 (7-0), 4AA regional finalist
2011: 15-1 (7-0), 4AA state finalist
2010: 10-3 (7-0), 4AA third round