Even after heavy losses, Hawks' goal is playoff victory
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
If the sign outside Danville head coach Joey Burch's office is any indication, the Hawks aren't setting their goals any lower after last year's 9-2 season and the first playoff game for Danville in a decade.
"2005 Team Goals: Region 7 Champs 10-0, WIN a playoff game," reads the sign. That's lofty expectations for a Hawks team that is losing 13 seniors, including three players who were named to All-State lists.
"We think we can (go 10-0)," Burch said. "We were able last year to play a lot of people. Even though the guys we're losing were mostly starters, we were up in several games last year so the backups got a lot of quality playing time.
"That really helps us build a program. A lot of these guys played in B-team games as well. We're asking them not to have any letdown at all, and to step it up a notch this season."
The turnaround for Danville has been nothing short of impressive, from a team that won just five games between 1998 and 2002, to last year's 9-2 season. Burch hopes that this season's team is able to feed off the energy of last year's success.
"We're excited about the carryover effect from last year," he said. "Once we got the program turned around and got back to winning, it started becoming contagious. We hope it continues this season. We're returning several key players that will do fine for us, and we're just going to have to have a couple of younger kids step up and play."
The Hawks lose 13 seniors from last season, including All-State defensive end Patrick Pinchon, another starting defensive end in Logan Asherbranner, linebackers Thomas Garner and Craig Poole, and a three-year starter at quarterback in Chase Suggs.
But the team also returns several key components of last year's talented team, including All-State honorable mention running back Jeremy Orr and All-State honorable mention wide receiver Tyree Murphy. Casey Wilson, who is moving from split end to quarterback, will be called on to replace Suggs' production and provide leadership for the Hawks.
"If Jeremy can stay healthy he'll have another great year and come close to setting the school record for rushing yards," Burch said. "Casey, Tyree and Jeremy are going to have to be (leaders on this team)."
Sophomore Stacey Blackwood will probably be Wilson's backup at quarterback, and Jeremy Orr will be backed up by De'untray Orr.
Alex Randolph, who will also play linebacker, will share the team's fullback duties with De'untray Orr. The Hawks are loaded at wide receiver, with Murphy, Corey Gilmore, Todd Sargent and Tucker Sargent giving Wilson several potent offensive weapons.
Burch has been impressed by junior John Dalton, a two-way player who will see action at tight end and outside linebacker.
"John did a good job for us in the spring and caught a lot of balls in passing camp during the summer," he said. "We're expecting good things on both sides of the ball from him."
The offensive line is perhaps the team's biggest question mark after losing three of five starters.
Daniel Smith, Jesse Murphy, Justin Nelson, Nathan Nelson and Judd James will compete for positions along the line.
"We're going to really need to have some kids develop," Burch said about his young offensive line.
There will be no rest for the new starters on the line, because many of them will be called upon to play on the defensive line as well.
"Last year we had a lot of depth at these positions and played a lot of guys on just one side of the ball, but this year we're going to need a lot more players to go two ways," Burch said. "We're going to have to just get them in better shape."
Tyree Murphy, De'untray Orr, Blackwood, Tucker Sargent, Jeremy Orr and Todd Sargent will be in the mix for defensive backfield positions. Dalton will be called on to perform the team's kicking and punting duties, in addition to starting on both offense and defense.
Special teams has been a focus of the team heading into this season, Burch said.
"We're going to put a big emphasis on our special teams," he said. "Coach (Brad) Drummond has taken that over and is real excited about it; he's put in some new things and we're going to spend a lot of time on it. Last year the two games we lost had a lot to do with special teams hurting us. We kind of got kicked back in a hole and played most of the game on our side of the field."
One of those losses was a 31-0 loss to Hokes Bluff in the first round of the playoffs.
"We were excited to get to the playoffs last year, that was our goal," Burch said. "But I think once we reached that goal we kind of had a little letdown and didn't play very well in our playoff game. We're coming into it this year with our goals set a little bit higher."