The numbers are up and enthusiasm high as Jason Hurst enters his second year as head coach at Northside Methodist Academy.
“We dressed out 65 in the spring game,” Hurst said. “Our numbers are so high we had to start a ninth and 10th grade team this year. We’ll play five games with ninth and 10th graders.
“So we’ve got a seventh/eighth/ninth grade team and a ninth/10th grade team and a varsity. We’ve got over 100 kids in the program.”
The Knights, which finished 4-7 a year ago, took a blow before going into preseason drills when last year’s starting quarterback, Bauer Sharp, decided to transfer to Dothan High.
However, Hurst has the luxury of having another talented signal-caller to plug into the slot in sophomore Cason Eubanks, who is also a standout baseball player.
“Cason is an outstanding athlete – not only one of the best I’ve ever coached, but one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Hurst said. “We’re going to be a little bit different. We’re going to play-action and boot him out a lot, for two reasons: One, he’s a little bit shorter, so to give him some more vision, and also because he’s such an athlete.
“He can be out there and be a run-pass threat. He’s going to cause a lot of problems for defenses.”
The Knights did pick up a talented transfer in senior running back Chase Swain, who had been at Houston Academy.
“He’s a good runner between the tackles,” Hurst said. “He protects the football and he blocks when he’s supposed to block. He’s going to get you the tough yards between the tackles.”
Brayson Sewell and Tyler Small are also talented running backs. Small will also play at a wide receiver or tight end slot.
“Our identity is going to be a little different,” Hurst said. “We’re going to huddle more, we’re going to grind the clock more and we’re going to run the ball more. We may score more points; we’re just going to be different.”
NMA returns three starters across the front in Harlan Mobley, Jay Austin Solomon and Caleb Sauls.
“The offensive line is going to be a strength for us,” Hurst said.
Cason Metcalf, a senior, is a returner at tight end. Caleb Johns, a senior, is expected to start at fullback.
“Cason Metcalf is probably going to be our go-to receiver this year,” Hurst said. “We lost three senior receivers last year. Cason is the most experienced and probably the most talented receiver we have.”
The defense returns five starters. Seniors Aaron Gilbert and Tripp Griffin are strong at the linebacker spots. Tres Weeks is a senior starter at defensive end. Whit Ott starts at tackle and Tyler Grantham is a returning starter in the secondary.
Other projected starters are Kennard Miller, a junior cornerback, and Cole Dykes, a sophomore linebacker. Nyrick Hawkins is expected to be a contributor in the secondary.
“The defense is going to be a strength of our team this year, no doubt,” Hurst said. “We’re going to base out of a 4-4.
“We’ve got Tres Weeks – an outstanding defensive end. We’ve got a group of senior linebackers. Kind of a darkhorse who really looked good in the spring game was sophomore Cole Dykes.”
Carter Stevens, a sophomore, is expected to handle the kicking chores.
A new fieldhouse recently opened on campus and a new strength and conditioning coach was hired as Hurst continues to build the program.
“The administration has been fantastic,” Hurst said. “We just finished a brand new fieldhouse that gives us a place to call home for the first time. We’ve watched film in there, we’ve got lockers, do all of our weight lifting stuff.
“We’ve hired a new strength and conditioning coordinator (Justin Scott). We have come so far because the administration has been so good to work with. I feel great going into year two.”
KNIGHTS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Jason Hurst (2nd year at Northside Methodist, 4-7; 5th year as head coach, 27-21)
>> 2018 record: 4-7 overall, 2-1 in AISA Class AAA, Region 2
>> 2018 results: at Edgewood Academy (L, 12-13); Abbeville Christian (L, 6-7); Lakeside School (L, 26-34, OT); Pike Liberal Arts # (L, 17-45); at Monroe Academy # (L, 7-55); at Lee-Scott Academy (W, 33-23); at Success Unlimited # (W, 37-18); Fort Dale Academy # (played in afternoon; no lights at Ashford because of Hurricane Michael) (W, 42-14); at Macon-East # (L, 25-36); R.F. Munroe (Fla.) (W, 52-8). STATE PLAYOFFS: at Bessemer Academy (L, 14-41)
>> Points scored/per game: 271/24.6
>> Points allowed/per game: 294/26.7
>> Returning offensive starters (4): OL Harlan Mobley (Sr., 6-1, 245); OL Jay Austin Solomon (Jr., 5-11, 285); OL Caleb Sauls (Sr., 6-2, 300); TE Cason Metcalf (Sr., 6-1, 200)
>> Returning defensive starters (5): DE Tres Weeks (Sr., 6-2, 195); DT Whit Ott (Sr., 5-10, 215); LB Tripp Griffin (Sr., 6-0, 190); LB Aaron Gilbert (Sr., 6-1, 230); DB Tyler Grantham (Jr., 5-10, 160)
Aug. 23 Edgewood Academy
Aug. 29 (Thu) at Abbeville Christian
Sept. 6 at Lakeside School
Sept. 13 at Pike Liberal Arts #
Sept. 20 Monroe Academy #
Sept. 27 at Wewahitchka (Fla.)
Oct. 4 Lee-Scott Academy
Oct. 11 Success Unlimited #
Oct. 18 at Fort Dale #
Oct. 25 Macon-East #
Nov. 1 Off
# Denotes region games
All home games at Ashford Academy’s Layton Field