Brad Wilson missed one critical phase when he took over Leesville Road’s football program a year ago.
Because he arrived in Raleigh from Maryland in June 2015, he wasn’t able to complete a strength and conditioning program with his players – and he noticed it in the injuries the Pride suffered last year.
“That was one of our weaknesses last year: We weren’t as strong as our opponents,” said Wilson, Leesville’s second-year coach who introduced an up-tempo offense to the group. “They did a great job in the offseason. We had the 10 days of skill development, and that was huge for us.”
Wilson said the Pride adjusted well to the new pace of the offense and that with stronger players, they’ll have an improved handle on it.
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“I think because we’re bigger and stronger – knock on wood – the injuries will be less,” Wilson said.
Leesville’s most notable injury was to graduated quarterback Clay Vick. He injured his knee, allowing him just four games. He still managed 1,494 yards to lead the team in passing. Vick was replaced by then-junior Cooper Eason-Riddle and projected 2016 starter Evan Provost. Provost will return for his junior season.
Leesville’s spread offense tossed 2,989 total yards and 28 touchdowns between the trio.
Though the Pride was balanced at receiver, top target Matt Hamilton will return for his senior campaign. He led Leesville with 885 yards to go with nine touchdowns last year, and he was the conference’s second leading receiver.
“We’re not going to have that one standout guy,” Wilson said. “This offense involves everyone.”
Wilson is also looking forward to a more balanced offense this season. The Pride last year collected 784 rushing yards, led by Eason-Riddle with 289 and seven touchdowns.
Wilson is confident in the nucleus returning to Leesville, which includes seven starters on offense and nine on defense.
“It’s going to take a total team effort to accomplish what we want,” he said.
What were the biggest offseason improvements among the group?
The first thing that stood out was getting players in the weight room. The Pride weren’t as strong as their opponents, especially those in the Cap-8 Conference, so Wilson wanted to immediately adjust that. He didn’t see many of his multi-sport athletes during the spring but noticed a big commitment from players who were returning to the football field this fall.
“The ones who were not doing anything, they were there,” Wilson said. “You have to give credit to the kids; they knew that was one of the things they had to work on.”
What are the goals to follow up a playoff year?
Wilson works in stages. The Pride hope to make it back to playoffs and be successful this time around. They fell to Middle Creek in the opening round of 4A playoffs in 2015 and finished fourth in the Cap-8.
“The ultimate goal, like everyone’s should be in high school football, is to win a state championship,” Wilson said. “We know there are smaller goals we have to accomplish before that even happens. One goal at a time every day, and that’s our approach.”
How does North Carolina high school football compare to Maryland?
Wilson really enjoyed the 10-day development period provided by the N.C. High School Athletic Association in the spring.
“You can work with your kids in the summer,” he added. “When you coach football, and you’re doing it the right way, you want to take those opportunities that North Carolina gives you and take advantage to improve. The more time you can spend with your athletes, the better off you’re going to be.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
More on the Pride
Last year: 5-7 (4-3 Cap-8 4A), first round 4AA playoffs
Five-year average: 8-4 (5-2)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Contributors: Danny Blakeman (Sr., MLB/FB), Cole Coleman (Jr., DB), Cooper Eason-Riddle (Sr.,WR), Brandon Govan (Sr., OL/DL), Jack Gunnar (OL/DL), Bobby Haggerty (P/OLB), Matt Hamilton (Sr., WR), Matthew Melvin (DE/OLB)
The number: 16 — Leesville’s returning starters
The quote: “You have to compete against yourself mentally. You can’t look down on yourself in this league, because anybody can beat you at any given time.” — Leesville coach Brad Wilson
Aug. 19 vs. Jordan
Aug. 26 at Panther Creek
Sept. 1# vs. J.H. Rose
Sept. 9 vs. Garner
Sept. 16 BYE
Sept. 23* vs. Heritage
Sept. 30* at Broughton
Oct. 7* at Sanderson
Oct. 14* vs. Enloe
Oct. 21* at Wake Forest
Oct. 28* vs. Millbrook
Nov. 4* at Wakefield
* Conference game; # Thursday game; all games start at 7 p.m.