NEWLAND — Coming off a two-win season in 2018, the Avery Vikings varsity football team knew it had to begin the ascent back to the top by working on fundamentals that would ensure future sustained success. With that mindset, the Big Red has dedicated itself to bettering both themselves and one another by committing extra effort into the weight room, the film room and the playing field.
Over the course of the past eight months since Avery’s ninth and final loss in the first season of the Mac Bryan era, the Vikings have pinpointed a number of key areas where improvement had to take place, and the results of the commitment thus far have been evident in sight and in action.
“We’re certainly stronger. We’re bigger. We’ve got more confidence, I think,” Avery head coach Mac Bryan said in an Aug. 12 interview. “Today’s players can’t compete without the commitment to the weight training program. You just can’t compete without the year-round weight training. Our offensive line is much stronger, and we feel that our lines are much better. In the defensive tackle positions we are 265 and 300 pounds inside and have some strength.”
The Vikings return eight offensive and defensive starters to a team that graduated only five seniors in 2018 and features nine seniors on this year’s roster which will employ a Spread offense and a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Avery has excelled in a number of 7-on-7 settings during the heat of summer, but the game during the fall is altogether a different beast.
“The scrimmages this week will give us an idea of how some of our live stuff is going. The young kids, you don’t know until you see them do that. We’ll have some young kids in the mix and will try to eight-quarter a few of them to give them some experience on JV, but we’ll have at least two or three freshmen who will be playing for us at varsity at specific points,” Bryan explained.
“We’ve done really well in 7-on-7 but it isn’t real football. I think we’ve done well defensively in 7-on-7s, but again defensively it isn’t the same as having the full team. Without a pass rush and those things, it’s hard to stop people in 7-on-7s, but I think we’ve done a decent job this summer.”
Avery’s offense will be keyed around the play of a number of returning players at skill positions. Calling signals in the Spread offense attack will be returning quarterback Troy Hoilman. The junior completed 139 of 263 passes in 2018 for 1,457 yards and 17 touchdowns, and will shoulder much of the Viking offensive engine.
Weapons surrounding Hoilman will include tailback Lucas Andrews (50 carries, 229 yards, TD), who will at least partially fill in for departed leading rusher from 2018, Sam McCollum, as well as others called on to step up and provide offensive punch.
According to Bryan, however, the offensive production may in many ways be connected with endurance, an area where the Vikings had difficulty in 2018, as a number of players played on both sides of the ball.
“The skill guys are the ones we are worried about when it comes to endurance. Our lines will have somewhat of a rotation. Levi (sophomore lineman Andrews) will probably play more than he should have to, but the rest of the line we should have a little bit of a regular rotation out of. The skill players is where we will have concerns over how we can rest people,” Bryan noted. “Jesse Jones can play wide receiver, Mason Thomas has stepped in at the H-back position and done a nice job there. Our freshman Chad Giarrusso will also play some at receiver this year. Ty Smith has really been exceptional as that boundary receiver, so our receiving corps is solid. The problem is that all of them have to flip over and have to play defense, and that’s where the rub comes in. Jesse and Jonas (Bowman) are linebackers while Mason and Ty will be playing in the secondary, and we have to find ways to rest them. Lucas is our tailback, but he’s also a linebacker. Dalton (Towe) is a running back but he’s also a safety. Troy may have to play a little defense but we are going to try to keep him off the defensive side of the field as much as we can.”
For the 2019 Vikings, all-around improvement is a point of emphasis, and the squad will look to display stronger and more consistent performances in all three phases of the game.
A phase where the team will look to improve is on the defensive side of the football, where the Big Red surrendered an average of more than 51 points per contest last year, including 63 and 64 points to rivals Mitchell and Mountain Heritage, respectively, to close out the 2018 season.
While recognizing the difficulties stopping offenses from a season ago, Bryan also knows that this season’s club has made great strides to play a more consistently competitive brand of football.
“We are older and stronger. Last year, there were times when we would have been there to make a tackle, but we just weren’t strong enough to bring the guy down. In the passing game, if you put more pressure on the quarterback, you tend to help the coverage out a great deal. No pressure makes it hard to cover, and the passing game has become so complicated that if you don’t get pressure on the quarterback, you’re in trouble,” Bryan explained. “We feel like our front will help us in that regard and, just in general, we are hopefully going to tackle better, simply because we’re stronger. We also have more knowledge of how to set edges and what we’re trying to do.”
The coach also explained that the importance isn’t in attempting to shut out every opponent with a perfect game each Friday night, but also playing a smarter game.
“In today’s game, defenses would love to shut everybody out, but in today’s game the way the game has evolved, you’re going to give up some points. Now, we’re going to try to limit those points, but the other thing offensively is that we’ve caused the defense to give up a number of points, so we’ve got to limit our mistakes offensively and hope the age will do that by not putting our defense in a bad situation,” Bryan added.
“We’ve got to hold our own and make some plays in special teams. We need to block some punts and need to not let punts hit the ground and lose 20 yards. It all works together. Your defense and your offense and special teams are a total picture. You might hurt your defense on special teams and offense, and it looks like they had a horrible night when in actuality the other phases put them in bad situations, so we’ve got to play smart.”
Avery hosted a scrimmage at MacDonald Stadium earlier this week and travels to West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek for the Wilkes County Jamboree on Friday, Aug. 16, before opening its regular-season schedule on Friday, Aug. 23, at home against Ashe County.