WINCHESTER — Most football coaches would envy James Wood’s Ryan Morgan.
The third-year Colonels leader opened practice Monday returning his entire starting backfield, including a trio of running backs who combined for 1,884 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
The challenge for Morgan will be finding the right guys to open the holes for William Crowder, Jackson Turner and Sam Adkins and protect quarterback Carson Hoberg.
He returns just two full-time starters from last season, senior center Hayden Cunningham and junior guard/tackle Seth DeHaven. Senior Austin Schmitt filled in for injured Colonels, including Cunningham, last fall.
“We lost some good senior big guys last year,” said Morgan, who graduated starters Walker See, Luke Roy and Zach Herbert. “There’s no getting around that. ... We have two returning starters and one kid who played quite a bit. We’re trying to figure out those other two spots on the offensive line.”
Cunningham, a 6-foot, 283-pounder, says that the new faces have shown promise as the Colonels look to improve upon a 4-6 mark from last season.
“There’s a lot of new people, but they’re really improving since spring and summer workouts,” Cunningham said. “They’ve gotten a lot better and I feel like we’re going to have a good, solid line this year.”
Cunningham said the key to success is relatively simple.
“It’s getting our blocks down and blocking the right people,” he said. “That’s the main thing — block the right people. It’s a lot of repetitions.”
Morgan and his staff have also simplified some terminology and blocking schemes for the new faces.
“We are trying to simplify some things just because we are breaking in some new linemen,” he said. “We have some talent in the backfield. We’ve had them the past couple of years, but they’re kind of coming into their own physically and maturing. We want to make things simple so the kids play fast.”
And there’s plenty of speed and talent in the backfield.
Crowder, who placed fourth in Class 4 in the 100-meter dash, can go the distance on any carry. Adkins also has breakaway speed and Turner is a battering ram up the middle. Both Crowder, who recently deadlifted 500 pounds, and Turner have college offers.
Who wouldn’t want to block for those guys?
“We’re really excited because we have a lot of experience in the backfield,” Cunnigham said. “Now, we’ve just got to block for them. We’ve got to give them a little space and let them do their thing.”
“Those guys are great,” Morgan said of his three senior running backs. “They are one of the more talented groups that we’ve had, just as far as speed, athleticism and intelligence. It’s nice to have them back. We know they all can carry the ball. They’re dependable gaining yards and holding onto the football.
“Really some of these guys in the past years would have been bell-cow running backs where James Wood would have been in the I-formation and running one of these guys and he would have been getting the ball like 200 times,” Morgan added. “We have enough of them that we can spread out the talent and lighten the load on them so that they can play on special teams and defense as well.”
Those talented backs, who all play on defense, have confidence the offensive line will open holes.
“I feel like with the offense we have, our offensive line should be basically the best,” Crowder said. “It’s helping our quarterback, getting the ball out and just scoring and protecting everybody.”
“I know that they are going to work hard knowing that they are small in numbers and they need to push themselves,” Turner added. “I’m confident that they are going to get the job done.”
Morgan estimates he has 40 players suited up for the varsity and 45 on the JV roster. In addition to a strong class of seniors, he has brought up several sophomores, who were 8-1 last year at JV, who could see action.
“Honestly, I want to see competition,” Morgan said of expectations over the next couple of weeks. “I want to see the best brought out by competition. There are a lot of positions we have up for grabs and there are a lot of positions where we have some returning starters and we don’t know who that next guy is that comes in. It’s going to depend upon how they perform in camp.”
Key to that process will be a pair of scrimmages. The Colonels travel to Hampshire County (W.Va.) on Aug. 16 and host Boonsboro (Md.) on Aug. 23. Those two contests will precede the season-opener against defending Northwestern District champion Sherando at Kelican Stadium on Aug. 30.
“With a lot of new guys on the line, I feel like it’s going to be really important for the scrimmages to see how blocking is going and to see if we need to change people around,” Cunningham said.
“It will be huge because the first couple of weeks we like to practice against our stuff,” Morgan added. “You never know what Sherando is going to come out running Week 1. It’s nice not only for the coaches, but for the players, to see something else.”
All in all, Morgan left Day 1 happy with what he had seen.
“It went pretty well today,” he said. “We came out of it pretty healthy and that’s the most important thing. The kids are excited about just being out on the field and being able to do some 11-on-11 things. Over the summer, it was teaching and walking through and too much of coaches talking at them and not enough chances to get out there and catch and throw a football. It’s nice to get back in action and knock off some rust.”