Cary News: Sports

Preview: Athens Drive football finding its groove

Athens Drive’s Jackson Wetherby runs back an interception against Broughton during the second half Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Athens Drive High School. Athens Drive won 22-21.
Athens Drive’s Jackson Wetherby runs back an interception against Broughton during the second half Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Athens Drive High School. Athens Drive won 22-21.

Head coach Chris Martin and assistant Tom Wetherby had both noticed the same thing at practice earlier that day.

Martin went from one position group to the next and was hands-off, which was unlike him. Then he sat back and observed some of practice as his assistants went to work.

“That’s a good situation,” Martin said. “I like being in the thick of things, but shoot, I didn’t have to that much.”

When it comes to this year’s Jaguars (4-7, 2-5 in 2013), Martin figures to have some hard decisions pinning down the depth chart. But that’s the only trouble he’s having in his third year as head coach, which has him plenty pleased.

“The attitude is so much better this year. It’s unreal,” Martin said. “We changed up a lot, maybe too much when I first came in. But now everybody’s settled in. We’re used to each other. ... And the kids are buying in.”

Martin said he thinks “we can put a good team on both sides of the field” but also that it means some of his players will have to play on both sides of the ball. That includes:

There’s a race to settle the quarterback position, where four different Jags lined up last year. This year it’s a three-way race between Brandan Farley (6-of-15 passing, 100 yards), David Parker (5-of-7, 33 yards) and converted receiver Otumos Payemanu (179 receiving yards, one TD). All three have scrambling ability, Martin said.

“We kind of had the quarterback gong show for a while. This year we’ll pick a quarterback and stick with it,” Martin said.

There are plenty of changes to the offense, which is led by coordinator assistant Chris “Deuce” Martin (the staff calls him “Deuce” to avoid confusion with head coach Chris Martin).

The versatile Barnes slides over from wide receiver, where he had a team-high 435 yards (one TD; he also completed 2-of-2 passes for 96 yards with one TD) to play running back. Whichever quarterback ends up third in that competition will end up at running back along with those already mentioned.

The receivers are small and quick, but there are no standouts.

The offensive line returns two starters and is the thinnest position on offense.

“We look the same but we’re not the same,” head coach Martin said. “You’re not going to be able to key in on one guy.”

The defense has some good pieces, starting with second-team all-conference selections Tyree Manuel (75 tackles, eight sacks), a defensive lineman, and Jackson Wetherby (89 tackles, six INTs).

Head coach Martin also coordinates the defense and will use Athens’ more traditional look, the 3-4.

Manuel and Nate Gatling figure to start on the line with Harry Lloyd and Travis Hinshaw battling for the last spot.

Tradd Deaver and Matt Alexander lead the returning linebackers, who lost SWAC defensive player of the year Daniel Riddle.

Wyatt Summers, Terrance Johnson or Travis Shelton could line up at inside linebacker while Joseph Sykes, Cole Teander, Mhadi Jaroush and Anderson will compete for the outside spot.

Jackson Wetherby will be joined in the secondary by some combination of Barnes, Brock Martin, Khalid Oloko, Jalen McNish and Jordan Johnson.

“I expect (the defense) to be a lot better this year,” head coach Martin said.

Ben Williams will do the punting for the second straight year and add field goals. Conor Gronbach will take on kickoff duties.

Martin is optimistic about this year but understands his team may be overlooked by others in the SWAC. Though they haven’t played a game yet, the early indications are that some things that can’t be measured are already showing up as wins.

“I’ve had more fun this year than I’ve had probably since I’ve been here,” Martin said. “The kids are really receptive and they’re working hard. Whether that results in more wins for us, I don’t know. I think they’ll fight hard.”