There’s little doubt what it will take for Garner to be back among the Triangle area’s last standing football teams if you listen to Trojans’ head coach Thurman Leach during practice. It’s the same trait that Garner must possess if it wants to return to the top of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
The players lining up in the plain royal blue helmets every day at practice this August will no doubt know what it takes when the playoffs roll around in November.
“Champions? Do you want to be champions?” Leach rhetorically asked his team during one particularly long end of practice sprint session recently. “This is where you become a Garner football team. You get tough here. You have to be mentally and physically tough if you want to be a champion.”
The Trojans certainly what to be that again — more so since it seems to be a birthright to be a conference champion in Garner, given the Trojans’ rate of success — based on their commitment to be tougher and more fit entering the 2014 season.
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Garner, even though it won 10 games last season and advanced to the third round of the 4AA playoffs, wasn’t at its best late in the season. The Trojans were run down, partially because they had been through one of the wildest seasons in recent memory and partially because they weren’t in top level shape, Leach believes.
The Trojan offense — powered by 60-touchdown, 4,000-plus total yard machine Nyhieim Hines — was the most productive in school history scoring 666 points (47.6 PPG). But Garner couldn’t get consistent play on defense and struggled to consistently stop anybody.
Leach hopes that has changed. In fact, be believe it has already changed.
“Defensively, we’re 100 percent better than we were last year, already,” he said. “We’re going to be more physical than we were a year ago. I feel like we don’t have to outscore people like we did last year. That put such a heavy burden on our offense to score every time.
“Now, potentially, we’re to the point where we’ll be more of a cohesive football team.”
Garner will still be plenty potent on offense with Hines back at tailback and a handful of younger runners who have great potential as well.
Tyreece Taylor returns at the fullback position to help share some of the load running the ball and to keep helping blow open running lanes for Hines.
Chris Elston (5-foot-9, 257 pounds) returns at center and Nazell Jackson (5-5, 258) is back at guard. Jamison Brown (6-2, 220) is back at tight end.
“We will be young at the skill positions, especially wide receiver,” Leach said. “We’ve moved Raekwon Britton to wide receiver but expect guys like Colin Eaddy and Dwayne Holloway to step up as well. They just need experience.”
Garner moved Britton into a full-time receiver role instead of the split role he had last year, trying to spell Hines, at times at tailback. The Trojan coaching staff felt like putting Britton on the outside gives him more of a chance to contribute big plays of his own and help lighten Hines’ heavy role.
“We have more weapons around him,” Garner offensive coordinator Adam Hamrick said of Hines. “We feel like we have the players in place who can take some of that pressure off of him and make other teams worry about other guys hurting them.”
The quarterback position is in flux as well with two transfers working with the first team: junior Brodie West (formerly of Washington) and Shawnya Banks (formerly of Wakefield).
“We’ll have packages for both of them,” Leach said. “We need our offensive line to continue to get better in pass protection.”
New varsity potential starters on the line include Stephen Moore (6-1, 288), Greg Watkins (6-0, 236) and Logan Schild (5-10, 225).
The Trojans have reason to be motivated to be better on defense. They lost four games in 2013 despite averaging nearly seven touchdowns a night. Three of those losses came when Garner scored 40 points or more.
Among the starters back are Kevan Coppage and Jaelun Dean on the defensive line but the Trojans have added among others former Middle Creek standout Warren Messer at linebacker and Fayetteville transfer Matt Butler on the line. Leach, who was the Trojans’ defensive coordinator before being promoted to head coach before last season, also expects junior Desmond Quinerly, up from the junior varsity squad, to be a factor.
David Remy will see significant time at linebacker with Banks at strong safety along with Eaddy. Britton and Juwan Manley likely lining up at cornerback.
“They’re beginning to grasp what we want to do on offense and defense,” Leach said of his team. “We’ve got a lot of new faces to blend together. But the most important thing they’re doing is learning how to play Garner football.”