High School Sports

Smithfield-Selma relying on seniors, young talent to get back on track

3-and-out with Smithfield-Selma football coach Wes Hill

Smithfield-Selma High School football coach Wes Hill talks about his expectations for the season and potential strengths for the Spartans entering the 2016 season.
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Smithfield-Selma High School football coach Wes Hill talks about his expectations for the season and potential strengths for the Spartans entering the 2016 season.

A resurgence for Smithfield-Selma’s football program is all in the numbers.

As the 2016 season begins, the Spartans finally seem to have some numbers going in their direction. Namely, the number of players in the program. Second-year coach Wes Hill (a 1985 SSS grad) could have as many as 35-40 players on the roster, ending the days when the Spartans barely had enough players dressed on Friday nights to field full offensive and defensive units with no overlapping players.

There were more than 80 players in pads as practices opened this week.

Coming off a winless season — its third in the past five seasons, Smithfield-Selma will feature a class with 16 experienced seniors and some infusion of talent from a team that was the Two Rivers 3A Conference junior varsity co-champion. Typically, Thursday night results don’t amount to a hill of beans 24 hours later. But the benefit it could give the Spartans is an infusion of players who have some kind of winning history to build on.

Will the defense find its way?

Hill likes the potential he sees in a veteran group in the front eight group on defense, led by seniors Kerry Hinton, Antonio McDaniel and Henry Moore. But the secondary will be both young — multiple freshmen could start — and inexperienced.

“We have to stop the run, simply,” Hill said of the key to defensive improvement. “But we’re going to be young in the secondary and teams are going to know that. We have to be prepared to defend both parts of the game.”

What position group can the Spartans rely on?

It’s probably its lines, which both feature multiple senior returning starters, and the offensive backfield. Senior quarterback Austin Blackmon and senior fullback Tyquan Dublin will have to both be effective moving the ball in the Spartans’ Wing-T scheme.

Especially in the passing game, with an inexperienced receiving group.

“We’re going to throw the ball more this season,” Hill said. “We can’t let teams cram the box full expecting the run as much as they did last season. But when you throw the ball, more bad things can happen than do when you run it. We have to limit our mistakes in the passing game.”

What adjustments did Hill make to the coaching staff?

He’s trying to spread the responsibility around more in his second season at the helm. Mike Parrish returns after a year away from SSS at defensive coordinator and Matt Cuddington will be the offensive coordinator.

“I tried to do too much last season, honestly,” Hill said. “Mike is a veteran guy and although Matt is in that role for the first time, I’m confident he’ll get through that learning curve quickly. I’ll be there always on the headset for everybody.”

The Spartans also added former North Johnston head coach and former Southeast Raleigh defensive coordinator Scott Meserve to the staff. He’ll coach the defensive line this season. SSS alum William Parker is also back on the staff.

“The biggest thing that’s different this year is the continuity,” Hill said. “We’re using the same systems and terminology. The players know the coaches; the coaches know the players. They understand what we’re trying to do on the field.

“Now it’s a matter of guys just figuring out, ‘What role do I have?’ We’re going to get to those answers. We’re getting there.”

How do the Spartans come out of the first four games?

Road trips to likely Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title contender West Johnston and Nash Central open the season, followed by home tilts against traditional powers Clinton and Clayton.

Smithfield-Selma will have to keep its focus on victories possession-by-possession: putting up points when they move the ball on offense and getting defensive stops. Do those things consistently and SSS could find itself in a position to win any of those four contests, even though it will enter as big underdogs.

D. Clay Best: 919-524-8895, @dclaybest

More on the Spartans

Last season: 0-11 (0-5 Two Rivers 3A)

Five-year average: 1-10, 1-5

Preseason N&O rank: Unranked

Offense: Wing-T

Defense: 3-5

Coaches: Wes Hill (head coach), Brian Bland (running backs), Matt Cuddington (offensive coordinator), Craig Faircloth (offensive line), Scott Meserve (defensive line), William Parker (offensive line), Mike Parrish (defensive coordinator), Mike Sliger (defensive backs), T.J. Tamer (wide receivers)

Contributors: Austin Blackmon (Sr., QB), Tyquan Dublin (Sr., FB), Elijah Exum (Sr., OG), Kerry Hinton (Sr., DL), Cody Jones (Sr., C), Antonio McDaniel (Sr., ILB), Henry Moore (Sr., OLB), Josh Raiford (Sr., OT)

The main number: 44.5 — the Spartans gave up more than six touchdowns a game on average last season. They have to stop the opposition more consistently to have a real shot at winning games.

Schedule

Aug. 19 at West Johnston, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 at Nash Central, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 Clinton, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 Clayton, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 at North Johnston, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 Northern Nash, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7* at Corinth Holders, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14* Western Harnett, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21* at Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 28* Triton, 7 p.m.

Nov. 4* at South Johnston, 7:30 p.m.

Note: * Conference game

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