GREAT FALLS — Great Falls has had plenty of issues with numbers in recent years. Being a small Class-A school, the Red Devils have been struggling with fielding enough players to be competitive.
“Last year, we started with about 31 or 32 players on the varsity and junior varsity program,” Great Falls coach Ken Schofield said. “And when the season ended, that number was down to 28.”
This year, numbers appear to be looking up with the Red Devils fielding 39 players, the most in recent history.
“Our turnout was even stronger than what we had in summer workouts,” Schofield said. “We had a few guys who came out at the start of practice who we were not counting on in the offseason. So far, they have been coming to practice on time every day. So we are excited about the season and what is going on here at Great Falls.”
Last season, the limited numbers had a huge effect on the Red Devils, who finished 4-7 overall after a 24-22 loss to Calhoun Falls in the first round of the state playoffs.
“During the playoffs, we had three linemen who were hurt, and also, our quarterback was injured and could not play.
“When we got to that game, Calhoun Falls got about six players who transferred from Georgia (with Calhoun Falls being close to the Georgia-South Carolina border). We had beaten them 34-0 during the regular season, but after getting those players, they got better. So you were looking at two teams who were heading in opposite directions.”
The longtime Great Falls coach is not only excited about numbers, but also the quality of players.
“Our front group (first string) can line up and play with anybody,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot to learn,” before the season begins.
“Last season, we were playing with running backs that did not have any experience. This year, we have about three or four with experience, along with two experienced tight ends,” David Jeter and Josh Simpson.
“So we are proud of our numbers, but we must still continue to work on athleticism in order to become a top-quality program.”
Great Falls will continue to run out of the Wing-T offensive scheme behind a strong group of blockers – Ty Ross, Chris Marthers, Matt Fowler, Tyrell Gill and Tyler Langley. Four of the five starters can squat at least 480 pounds.
They’ll protect Chris Culp, last year’s junior varsity signal-caller who started in the playoff loss, and Pierce Funderburke, who will also be vying for QB playing time.
The Red Devils have a staple of running backs, featuring Lamarion Craine, Jeter, D.C. Caldwell, Ladarious Blair, Omar Dean, and Hakeem Simpson.
The wide receiver position is also deep with Marcus Davis, Jemarcus Culp, Christian Twitty, Shaheem Kelly and Dean rotating into the lineup.
A deep defense
Defensively, Schofield said that the unit could be the strongest in several years.
Darious Kelly, Craine, Zykerian White will line up in the secondary, and the linebacker roles will feature D.C. Caldwell, Jeter and Hakeem Simpson.
Matt Fowler and Tyler Langley are penciled in as defensive tackles, while Culp and Ross will bookend the line at defensive end.
Also, Schofield is optimistic about freshman kicker John Hall, who has been booting 42-year field goals in practice.
“He will be handling extra points and field goals, but not yet the kickoff duties. He is going to be a good one for us.”
Schofield said that the region will once again be challenging with Lamar, Lewisville, McBee and a vastly improved C.A. Johnson squad.
The Red Devils finished third last season in the Region 3-A standings, but Schofield said that this year’s team has the talent to improve that ranking and make a return trip to the playoffs.
They also have the numbers to do it.