Few football teams can lose a 2,000-yard rusher without fretting about the consequences, but Kestrel Heights isn’t an average school.
Kestrel Heights is one of the few charter schools in the state that can field a football team, let alone a winning one. After five years of growth, plus the bumps and bruises that go with that for an independent school of 321 students, Kestrel Heights produced a 9-2 record last season and reached the NCHSAA playoffs.
The Hawks’ leading rusher and passer, quarterback Devonte Barker (2,008 yards rushing, 2,956 total yards last year) graduated, as did their top receiver, Dequann Scott (857 yards), and defender, Denzel Allen (11.3 tackles per game). And the team is still so small that the Hawks had to skip a 7 vs. 7 game over the summer because head coach David Lloyd couldn’t find enough players willing to show up for offseason drills.
But Lloyd remains upbeat about the Hawks’ chances for a return to the playoffs for a third straight year.
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“Last year’s season has definitely boosted our confidence, but we don’t want to hang our hats on last year’s success,” Lloyd said. “We want to make our own mark.”
Kestrel Heights returns four starting linemen, including 6-foot-2, 256-pound left tackle Diquinn Ryals; 6-2, 295 junior guard Jaire Taylor; junior guard Mike Breeden; and junior tackle Don Alston. Senior Demetrious Oakley-Brogden will step over to center to replace Antonio Broadie, who graduated.
Kaimond Johnson, who had 420 yards receiving last year, is shifting to quarterback, while Dezmond Garrett (906 yards rushing last year) will start at running back.
“With four returning lineman, Dez Garrett could have another good year,” Lloyd said, noting Garrett only got to play in nine games. “Kaimond Johnson is our best athlete on the team. He has the ability to score every time he touches the ball, so we want him to touch it a lot.”
Garrett, Ryals and Devil Gamble played linebacker last year. Jerron Harper also returns at defensive back. They and the four returning linemen provide Kestrel Heights with the core of solid defense.
“Devin Gamble is underestimated a lot,” Lloyd said. “He plays at one speed all the time – flat out. He plays angry.”
Lloyd also believes “Breeden has the potential to be an impact player on both sides of the line.”
Still, Lloyd says, Kestrel Heights has to improve on its defense that allowed 33 points a game last year.
The hard part
As an independent school, without automatic conference games on which to base a schedule, Kestrel Heights has three open dates this season and is still looking for another opponent. It’s probably too late to fill Aug. 26, and the Hawks might as well not play on Oct. 28, since their fall break begins at the end of classes that day. But they’d still like to secure an opponent for Sept. 23.
At worst, the Hawks might play a home school team, but that doesn’t help much with postseason seeding for the NCHSAA playoffs. Strength of schedule and seeding are part of Lloyd’s reasoning in adding Princeton and North Moore to this year’s slate of games.
“The past few years have been about just getting competitive,” Lloyd said. “Now we want to see how good we really are.”
More on the Hawks
Last year: 9-2
Five year average: 3-7
Preseason N&O rank: unranked
Coaches: David Lloyd, (4th year head coach); Jordan Hemby; George Thompson; Dale Edmonds.
Returning Contributors: Dez Garrett (Sr., RB/LB); Kaimond Johnson (Sr., QB); Diquinn Ryals (Sr., OL/LB); Jaire Taylor (Jr., OL); Mike Breeden (OL/DL); Devin Gamble (Sr., LB); Jerron Harper (Jr., DB).
Newcomers: D.J. Meadows (DB); Cary Williams (OL/DL).
The main number: 2 - straight years Kestrel Heights has made the playoffs.
Aug. 19 at Princeton 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 OPEN DATE
Sep. 2 at Chatham Central, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 vs. Bishop McGuiness, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16 vs. Rocky Mount Prep, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23 vs. TBD, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30 vs. Fayetteville Christian, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Word of God, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Sandhills Titans, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at NE Carolina Prep, 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 OPEN DATE
Nov. 4 at North Moore, 7 p.m.