It could have been a much different year for Apex in 2013.
In a five-game span, the Cougars upset Fuquay-Varina, lost three games by six points or fewer (including 17-14 to playoff-bound Sanderson and 37-31 in overtime to playoff-bound Riverside) and also lost to 4AA state semifinalist Middle Creek 21-7.
The Cougars had some tough breaks last year as they finished 2-9. The hope is that will pay off this year.
“I know our win-loss record didn’t reflect it last year, but we were a much-improved football team,” third-year head coach Joe Kilby said. “We were in the fight. With that win against Fuquay, we were plotting it out – ‘There’s a playoff chance for us if we take care of this thing.’ Disappointing for us in the end, but it’s also a motivator for our guys going into this year. ”
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New offensive coordinator Will Orbin shakes things up. Orbin is formerly the head coach at Holly Springs, who had the league’s No. 1 rushing attack last year. He’ll run a two-back power run scheme with eight returning starters.
It starts with the offensive line, and many of those players are returning. Third-year starter Ben Lackey is a staple at right guard. Jeff Cropper, Charlie Crampton and Mark Harris will help open up holes for junior running back Isaiah Totten.
Totten (711 yards, 9 TDs) was a second-team all-conference player capable of some big plays.
Quarterback Grayson Boyd (66-of-131 passing, 667 yards), a junior, enters his second year as the starter. The new offense may not need him to throw as often, but it will need him to be accurate when he does.
“Grayson is an intelligent football player. He’s dedicated at his position,” Kilby said. “He has worked hard throughout the offseason – right from the time we were stepping off the field at the end of last season, literally. As he was stepping off the grass he was talking to coach, ‘When can I start throwing the football? These are things I’m planning on doing,’ and things like that.”
Owen Pickard (132 yards, 2 TDs), Brandon Cox, Ben Foote and Chase Oliver will factor in at receiver along with Ian Boyd (318 yards, 3 TDs) who played some quarterback last year and was the team’s third-leading rusher (478 yards, 3 TDs). Tristan Stoops, Zack Baldwin and Justin Cook are in competition for the H-back.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Thomas, a 17-year coaching vet, has his hard-hitting linebackers Jacob Sizemore and Joey Copeland, both two-year starters, back. Jordan Mann moves up from JV to join them in the rotation in the 4-2-5.
“All three of them like contact,” Kilby said.
Foote and Brandon Freer return as starting corners. Brandon Cox and John Stephens and Jude Upchurch are battling for safety spots. Ian Boyd could also see some time at safety.
Miles Drayton will lead a young defensive line that includes Chaz Washington, Joe Yerish, Kirk Cunningham and Sean Siever.
Apex is set at the specialists with Foote doing field goals, Cox punting and junior Nate Davis kicking off.
“Ben’s amazing. He’s going to play offense, defense, he’s going to catch the ball, he’s going to defend it,” Kilby said.
There’s an upbeat feel in the “Peak of Good Living” this football season.
On the field, the Cougars are confident things are moving in the right direction.
There’s also joy in having Kilby back after he missed most of the summer after undergoing heart surgery in June.
“I love our kids. I love the way they’ve prepared themselves this offseason and summer, and they did a lot of it without me around,” Kilby said.
He also joked, “If we have the season we all want and think we can have, maybe I’ll take every summer off.”