Sanderson was no doubt a very young team last season. In taking some of the lumps that accompany such youth, the Spartans feel ready to compete.
Not only will it return several key seniors, but Sanderson’s strong junior class will allow different looks than last year.
The conference’s leading rusher Jordan Logan will return for his senior season, but Spartans coach Ben Kolstad is hoping the boosted experience will relieve some of the pressure off Logan. Quarterback Justin Dunn, who was injured in the third game of the season last year, will likely return to guide the offense. Trent Pennix, who was a sophomore in 2015, took over for Dunn.
The quarterbacks combined for 10 interceptions to six touchdowns, and Kolstad is confident in that ratio’s reversal.
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“(Trent) wasn’t really a quarterback last year; that’s another reason we didn’t throw last year,” Kolstad said of a 2015 offense that amassed 684 passing yards. “We just kind of have a whole different setup completely. We have more threats at receiver. Both (Trent and Justin) will probably play.
“Justin hopefully will be the guy.”
Kolstad also has high hopes for his defense.
Sanderson will return eight defensive starters, including several all-conference selections.
Linebacker Sam Vines, one of a handful of two-way players, will return for his senior season. Vines led the Spartans with 91 tackles, matching former Wake Forest star Dexter Lawrence for top in the conference.
“(Defensive coordinator Marcus) Gladden is a great defensive coach,” Kolstad said. “We should be solid. We have a lot of experience coming back, and it continues to get better everyday. We’ve been doing well, and we have had a good summer.”
Sanderson kicks off the season at Knightdale, a squad it lost to in overtime in last year’s season opener. While a tough Cap-8 Conference schedule awaits the Spartans, who tied for fifth in the league last year, Kolstad is focused on the athletic Knightdale team.
How much will Logan be featured this year?
Rushing for a conference-best 1,475 yards last season was great, but Kolstad wants to take the load off of the soon-to-be senior running back. Sanderson expects to have more weapons to complement Logan, who scored five rushing touchdowns.
In all, Logan, while expected to be productive on the offensive end, shouldn’t have the burden he did last season.
“We’re much more experienced across the board, so he doesn’t have to bear the whole load,” Kolstad said.
What potential do the first three games have to mold the season?
Sanderson won’t play at home until it hosts Apex on Sept. 1, a Thursday game. Last season, it fell in overtime to Knightdale, played favorably against a strong Fuquay-Varina team and defeated Apex by one point on the road. Those same three games this season have the opportunity to shape the season for the Spartans.
After hosting Apex, they’ll have a bye, then Jordan – then their Cap-8 opener.
“Knightdale, that’s goal Number 1. We had them beat last year, but we didn’t get it done in OT,” Kolstad said. “We like going against them; they’re always very athletic. Fuquay is a disciplined, well-coached team. They were young last year as well. I’m good friends with coach (Jeb) Hall, and it’s going to be fun and exciting to go against a good team.”
With Apex being Sanderson’s home opener, Kolstad hopes the team uses it to turn around its recent home stretch.
The Spartans finished 1-4 at home last season and look to improve.
Can Sanderson compete in the Cap-8?
Sanderson opens its conference season with Wakefield. Kolstad acknowledged the Wolverines are always good and their quarterback Matt McKay is athletic.
Sanderson’s scrimmage and nonconference schedule will have, in its hopes, prepared it for the traditionally tough Cap-8.
“We feel like physically we can compete,” Kolstad said. “We always feel that way, but we feel that way more so than usual because we have the experience to do so this year.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
More on the Spartans
Last year: 4-7 (3-4 Cap-8 4A)
Five-year average: 3-8 (2-5)
N&O preseason rank: Unranked
Contributors: Jordan Logan (Sr., RB), Chris Barlow (Sr., OL), Turner Owens (Sr., OL), Sam Vines (Sr., LB), Adoza Umaru (Sr., DE), Jesse Williams (Sr., CB/OLB)
The number: 1 — Home game Sanderson won last season
Aug. 19 at Knightdale
Aug. 26 at Fuquay-Varina
Sept. 1# vs. Apex
Sept. 9 BYE
Sept. 16 vs. Jordan
Sept. 23* vs. Wakefield
Sept. 30* at Heritage
Oct. 7* vs. Leesville Road
Oct. 14* at Broughton
Oct. 21* at Enloe
Oct. 28* vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 4* at Millbrook
*-Conference game; #-Thursday game; all games at 7 p.m.