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Chargers look for another big post-season run

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By Mike Farner

MOUNT WASHINGTON – If you are the type fan that bases your hopes for the upcoming season on the returning ‘skill’ position players, then you will love the Bullitt East Chargers heading into the 2014 season.

     If, on the other hand, you look at returning linemen as the basis for the upcoming campaign, then you are probably losing some sleep worrying about the Chargers as they prepare to start play this Friday against Boyle County in the Death Valley Bowl at Lincoln County High School.

     It was pretty much just the opposite scenario at this point last year for the Chargers and everything worked out just fine. Bullitt East posted an 11-2 mark, the best since 2008, and the team reached the Class 5-A regional final before losing to John Hardin 28-14.

     That team was long on linemen with experience and had some question marks in the backfield. It is just the opposite now.

     While head coach Darrell Vincent, entering his fourth year at the helm thinks the inexperience on the offensive line can be overcome, still isn’t sugar coating that his team still has question marks in that area heading into a tough season-opener.

     “That is where we are youngest and have to grow up the most,” the coach said before a practice last week.

     Even with the best-case scenario, the Chargers only returned one offensive lineman from a year ago, senior Brandon Rogers. Unfortunately, Rogers tweaked his knee early in practice in July and has not had much practice the past few weeks. Still, he did return to practice on Monday of this week, but Vincent wasn’t sure if he would player in the opener or be held out until the second game.

     The situation along the line was so dire a few weeks ago that Vincent sent out an open casting call. The coach was quite impressed with two players who had secured spots high on the depth chart volunteered for a one-year move.

     “We’ve had some injuries and two young men who I am so proud of have stepped up,” Vincent explained. “A tight end and full back have switched to guard. They have made us a better offensive line. After they started playing there I think they had some fun with it.”

     The tight end who is now a starting guard is junior Cole Stump. In addition, fullback Allen Miles is now a guard. The moves have been so recent that Vincent was scratching out names on the roster and moving them to new positions with new numbers a day before the team’s only scrimmage which was against Fern Creek last Friday.

     “It’s probably a full-time move for now,” Vincent noted. “For their senior years they can move back because we’ll have some more linemen by then. We have some good looking freshmen in that class who just need a year to develop.”

     Vincent made the first move, but the players didn’t hesitate.

     “I talked to them early this week,” the coach said. “They knew it. They were not surprised. They said that ‘we’ll do what it takes to win’.

     “I’m very proud of them,” Vincent added. “Sometimes that is hard for kids to do. It speaks to their character.”

     Bullitt East has had a long run of powerful offensive tackles to anchore the split-back veer attack. Last year it was Dylan Ferguson and before that it was Andrew Okruch. Both of those players are now playing college football.

     Adding to the injuries on the line is the fact that junior Matt LaPierre suffered a torn ACL back in the spring and probably will not play this season.

     It doesn’t appear that any of the Bullitt East linemen this year will tip the scales at more than 260 pounds. If there is a silver-lining it could come from the fact that the Chargers will be harder to defend on key plays. Last year, everyone knew that the ball would go to Ferguson’s side. This year, the play could go to either side.

     At this point, Vincent said that the center will be senior Justin Parsons with Stump and Miles filling the two guard spots. At tackle, senior Spencer Warren and junior Jared Melton will be the starters. Warren started some on defense last year, but he saw very little time on offense.

     When Rogers is ready to return, he can play at guard or center. Depth at the inner spots will come from junior Travis Houpt, junior Jacob Caudill or freshman Zeke Kern. Caudill is another of the linemen who has been hurt in pre-season drills and his return will certainly bolster the line.

     On the outside, depth for Warren and Melton will come from sophomores John Page and William West as well as freshman Jacob Darnell.

     In the split-back veer, the tight ends are as important as the tackles and the Chargers do have strength at that spot. Senior Trent Meredith, who could also start on defense, will be back for the season as well Jacob Judd. The team got a nice transfer when Billy jack Holiday moved in from Prestonburg and he will join the rotation at tight end. Nick Cooper will also see some time at tight end.

     At the single wide receiver spot, the Chargers will be looking to senior Alex Elkins as the starter with both senior Isiah Boyd and sophomore Mitchell Langley also getting playing time.

     The strength of the offense comes from a high-powered group of runners. Seniors Austin Colvin and Robert Hartley both rushed for over 1,000-yards last season as did quarterback Pierce Kelly.

     Both Colvin and Hartley will play key roles on defense, but that is possible because the Chargers have depth at that position. Senior Sam Lowe is just getting back to being ready to play following an injury and the same is true for junior Chad Caldwell, an athlete good enough to qualify for the sate track meet in the long jump in the spring.

     Further depth at running back comes from senior Shane Satori and freshman Logan McKenna.

     Still, the offense for the Chargers will revolve around Kelly who went from an inexperience rookie at the position at the start of last year to team leader by the end of the season.

     “He has matured a lot,” Vincent said. “I think he will be better than last year. He needs to be better with the inexperience we have on the line.”

     While Kelly is the absolute leader on the team at quarterback, Vincent plans on once again getting quality snaps for sophomore back-up Konner Polson. There are even some possibilities of Kelly moving out and taking passes from Polson.

Defensive Experience

     While there are question marks up front on the offense, the Chargers bring back eight starters on defense.

     That starts right in the middle with Warren and senior Austin Flood at defensive tackle. Vincent said that Flood is “one of the better defensive tackles we’ve had.”

     Depth in the middle will come from West, Kern, sophomore Garrett Scott and Rogers

     There isn’t quite as much experience on the outside, but Vincent has plenty of confidence in Lowe and Stump to start with Judd and Holiday rotating into the defensive end spots.

     At linebacker, Satori returns at one of the outside spots and he will be flanked by Cooper on the other side. Miles will play in the middle. Because those three will also play some on offense, there will be playing time available for sophomore Steven Brown, junior Cameron Dossey and McKenna.

     In the secondary, Colvin and senior Zach Allen return after starting every game last season at the two corner positions. They could be spelled by junior Matthew Snawder, Elkins or senior Ethan Stielberg.

     At strong safety, Hartley will anchor the defense as he will be a starter for a third season. At free safety, Vincent feels that Langley or Boyd will nail down the starting spot next to Hartley. There is depth at that position with Meredith, freshman Hunter Perdue, sophomore Justin Defler and junior Kameron Hinkley also in the mix for playing time.

     When the Chargers need to kick, Kelly or McKenna will do the punting.  The place kicking duties will be handled by junior Jalen Troutman who has been putting kick-offs near the endzone and Vincent feels that he could manage 40-yard field goals.