Whetstone: Braves push forward after delayed start
Third-year coach Tom Jones likes what he has seen from the Whetstone football team in this delayed and shortened season.
A year removed from a 3-7 record, the Braves feature a 51-player roster with 14 seniors after struggling in years past with participation numbers.
Jones said the Braves’ talent and depth put them in a more competitive position in the City League. Whetstone has not finished above .500 since 2013, when it went 6-4. The Braves finished 5-5 in 2015 and 2016.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” Jones said. “We’ve got depth, we have skill. We don’t have much size, but we have enough, and we have some experience. That’s a big one.”
The Braves return several contributors on defense, including senior Darric McClinton at weakside linebacker (36.5 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 tackles for loss in 2019) and junior Abdourahman Sallah at strong safety (23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions).
On the defensive line, the Braves intend to utilize a rotation of players, including seniors David Johnson-Henderson, Malikahi Dudley and Tre Griffin at end, and senior Zane Fent and juniors Martevion Hawkins and Roobyns Jean at tackle.
“(We’re rotating) to make sure that we’re staying fresh and giving guys breathers, and utilizing the depth we have,” Jones said.
On offense, senior quarterback Alex Hurd – who started his junior season and rotated at quarterback as a sophomore – again is leading Whetstone’s spread-option attack.
“I think we’re jelling pretty tightly,” said Hurd, who completed 109 of 196 passes for 1,148 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019. “We’re all learning as it goes on. Everyone’s stepping up, and everyone has to do their part.”
Other key contributors on offense include junior Ismael Obas and sophomore Kiefer Young at receiver, senior Khris Watkins-Sellers and McClinton at fullback/halfback and Sallah at tight end.
“(Hurd) has some years behind him now and he’s figured it out,” Jones said. “He’s stepping into a leadership role really well.”
The Braves opened with a 52-6 loss at South on Sept. 17 and defeated visiting Mifflin 12-6 on Sept. 25.
Whetstone surrendered 457 yards of offense to South. McClinton carried 10 times for 46 yards and returned a kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown, and Hurd completed four of nine passes for 30 yards.
“Finishing drives is key,” Hurd said. “We’ve really improved the rushing a lot this year and added a lot more formations in, and we’re going to get the passing going for sure. The run’s been stable.”
The Braves play at Centennial on Friday, Oct. 2, before the playoffs begin the following week. Every team is eligible to compete in the playoffs this season.
Following the playoffs, Jones said the Braves are open to scheduling additional games.
“I think we can do a lot of things (this season),” Hurd said. “I think this team is an underdog for sure. We’re the type of team that can just come out and hit you. But we just have to have that mindset going into the game. We just have to be confident and trust our coaches.”