Football returns in less than a month, and Enterprise fans can see the Wildcats in action against North Miami Beach on Aug. 23.
Those who missed the spring game against Park Crossing will get their first chance to witness a new-look Wildcat squad, especially on offense, under head coach Rick Darlington, perhaps the most high-profile hire in the state during the offseason.
Darlington is well known for his run-heavy single wing offense, which he used at Apopka High School in Florida where he won three Class 6A state championships.
“It’s a totally different type of system from what they’ve had,” Darlington said at Coaches Media Day last Friday. “They’ve very much been a spread, air-raid type team and we’re definitely not going to be that. It doesn’t seem like we have the pieces for that. We don’t have a bunch of receiver types. We’ve got a lot more running back types, and I think that’s a good fit with the linemen we have and a good fit for what we’re trying to do.”
Enterprise returns several offensive personnel including four starting linemen and tailback/receiver Josh McCray. The offense is led by Darlington’s son, quarterback/fullback Jackson Darlington, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior who brings a high football IQ to the position and is garnering some college interest.
“He’s really important because he not only knows our system inside and out, he also knows what I want as a leader and as a team captain,” Coach Darlington said. “He’s been around my teams his whole life, so he knows what it needs to look like in the locker room and he knows what it needs to look like on the field. He’s a very talented player but the thing about him is he may be the most football smart kid I’ve ever had and I’ve had other sons -- one went to Oklahoma and one Nebraska -- and they’re really smart too but (Jackson) just gets it. We couldn’t do a fourth of what we’re doing on offense without him.”
Darlington said McCray, at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds with a 4.5 40-time, has the potential to be a special player and possesses great all-around ball skills.
“I believe he was the Wiregrass Player of the Year last year as a sophomore in one publication as a receiver,” Darlington said. “He’s really talented, so if he continues to develop like we hope he can then he can just be a great, great player and certainly one of the best in the state.”
Defensively, the Wildcats have been ailing for the past two seasons. According to Darlington, that unit is a concern because of staff turnover.
“They’ve been last in the state on defense for the last two years, and that was with two totally different defensive staffs,” he said. “In 2016, they go 10-2 and I heard they had a great defense. 2017, last. The whole staff gets fired. A brand new staff comes in. They go last in the state. This is the third new defensive staff in three years the kids have had. There’s just a big learning curve because of the fundamentals we’re teaching and the terminology. All of it is brand new again.”
Despite the concerns, Darlington did say there are players on the unit that could make an impact.
“Robert Ellis has been a guy that stood out to us,” Darlington said. “He can play inside or outside linebacker, and he’ll also play tight end for us. Josh is playing safety. Jackson is playing safety. Jaylon Webster is another guy; he’s going to be a junior corner. He’s got potential to become a college ball player and a really good player for us.”
Defensive lineman Larry Magwood is another player to watch, according to Darlington.
“I’ve been doing the same conditioning test for 30 years now,” he said. “He’s probably one of my five highest-point-total guys ever at any school I’ve coached at.”
One coach that will help defensively is new coordinator Jed Kennedy, a state-championship head coach from Wisconsin.
“He’s one of my best friends, but he’s also the best head coach I know,” Darlington said. “We always wanted to coach together, but being head coaches in different states I thought there was no way. The fact we were able to bring him in is just a huge thing. He just gives me a different feel for this job.”
Of the 17 coaches on staff last year, Darlington said only two are carryovers from last season. Some were replaced as Darlington made his own additions, including defensive backs coach Marcus McCarty. Others accepted other positions. Assistant coach Zack Holmes is now the head coach of New Brockton and he brought assistants Bradley Clay and Johnathan Hawkins with him.
Former offensive coordinator Shane Corley departed in summer.
“I hired my offensive staff in December,” Darlington said. “They were all Enterprise guys. We were meeting together, watching film. We were a very cohesive staff up until mid-June and Shane Corley left. That really threw a wrench in the plan because Shane is a great coach. His leaving kind of shook us up. It worked out. I got a guy from Georgia I’ve known for a while named Keaton Wilson to come in, and he’ll be good. Things happen for a reason.”
Darlington also updated the injury status of linebacker KD McCray, as well as receiver Jared Smith and KJ Couch. All three are recovering from ACL tears. McCray -- after battling a heat-related incident-- is expected back for the first game, while Smith and Couch are still rehabbing.
Overall, Darlington said the biggest challenge will be unfamiliarity with opponents in a region that is new to him.
As far as goals for the year, the idea is to focus on one game per week and constantly improve.
“I want us to get better during the season,” Darlington said. “I want to be playing our best ball in November, and I want opponents to think, ‘That’s a disciplined team. They’re tough and they play hard.’ That’s the reputation I want us to have.”