With a year under his belt, David Watts feels a little more settled in as G.W. Long’s head football coach.
He also believes his players are more comfortable with him as they enter year two under his tutelage.
“We speak a common language now,” Watts said.
The results, Watts says, has put the program in a better position.
“We are already ahead of where we were last year,” Watts said.
The Rebels, in Watts’ first year, finished 8-2 and reached the first round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The good news for Watts is there are some solid blocks to build off of for 2022.
“We have got six starters back on the offensive side – some were part-time starters – and five on defense,” Watts said.
People are also reading…
The bad news is a pretty good group graduated, including several veteran skill athletes in quarterback Kobie Stringer and running backs Trevor Morris and Jackson Chancey.
“We did lose (a lot of skill players), but the biggest hit we took was up front on the offensive side as we lost three starters and also lost two who were returning offensive linemen last year to moves (to other positions), so we will be replacing all five guys,” Watts said.
“We had really good skill players that we lost – Kobie Stringer and Trevor Morris are the two biggest ones obviously. They will be hard to replace.”
On the flip side, both Stringer and Morris were slowed by injuries last year, forcing other players to fill the voids, which is a plus going into this year.
“Bryson Hughes took a lot of snaps late last season at QB,” Watts said. “He had played some wide receiver, but he just hadn’t played quarterback so his understanding of how to play the position was a little behind, but getting pressed into action sped up his learning curve a bit.”
Hughes is now a junior who has the starting reins at quarterback.
In trying to replace the void left by the backfield losses, Rebel coaches have moved two offensive linemen in junior Cohen Pritchett and senior Austin Kerchner into the area.
Watts said the Rebel offensive attack, as a result, will be a lot different this year with ground and pound likely replacing the long-distance runs of last year.
“We might not hit as many long runs off the running game,” Watts admitted.
Even more good news, though, for Long is the return of a solid group of wide receivers, which should keep pressure off the running game.
“We have good skill guys outside,” Watts said. “We have a lot of those guys coming back. We worked hard on the spring and this summer to try and utilize those guys a little bit more. I never felt last year that we got to the point that we threw the ball as well as we needed to.
“Hayes Horne is back at inside receiver. He is a real good playmaker and a guy you can count on when things get tough. Brant Brady is back, also playing at inside slot for us. Brant has good hands and is a good route runner.
“Then we got some good athletes outside too in Tanner Johnston and Brayden Whitehead, who both played safety and both are outside receivers. Jakirre Redding is also there. All are good playmakers.
“We will be different on offense in the running game, so if we make people defend the entire field, it will help us.”
Garrett Traylor returns as an offensive lineman, but the rest of line is a work in progress, said Watts.
Brayden Jordan, a junior, is a likely starter at center, while Trent Helms, a junior, and Hunter Kerchner, a sophomore, are battling for a tackle spot. The other tackle spot is up for grabs.
Watts was upbeat about the Rebel defense, which was solid last year in allowing only 15.6 points a game, ninth best in Class 2A.
“I feel we have a chance to be good on the defensive side,” Watts said. “The key for us will be the guys on the back side where we bring back that experience. Tanner Johnston and Brayden Whitehead are back and we will rotate three guys at safety with Jakirre Redding being the other one. If they can make plays for us like they did last year then we have a chance to be pretty decent on that side.”
Whitehead was a second-team all-state selection last year after earning five interceptions, 61 tackles, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and scoring two defensive touchdowns.
Kerchner, one of the Rebels top defenders a year ago with 67 tackles, including nine for losses with six quarterback sacks, is moving from outside to inside linebacker to fill a void by Chancey’s graduation. Pritchett, a back-up last year, will move into a starting inside linebacker spot. Horne and Brady are the expected starters at outside linebacker.
The defensive front, like the offensive front, has some holes to fill.
“We know Garrett Traylor is cemented into one of those spots as he will start for sure,” Watts said. “We have several guys working on the defensive line and if we played a ball game now, we would probably rotate six or seven guys up front.”
The special teams features the return of senior Tanner Patton. Two years ago as a sophomore, Patton was a first-team all-state kicker after hitting six field goals, including a 43-yarder, while making 44-of-49 point after attempts and consistently booming kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Last season, he was all-state as a punter, averaging 40.6 yards per punt.
“He was big for us,” Watts said. “Everybody talks about his placekicking and kickoffs, but he was as much of a weapon last year as a punter as anything. He was able to flip the field position when we didn’t get the offense going, so definitely looking forward to having him back.”
Watts said Patton, also a good soccer player, went to several camps in the summer, including one in Las Vegas and feels he has the chance to kick or punt at the collegiate level.
Watts said the snapper for the punts and kicks was also still unclear.
REBELS AT A GLANCE
Head coach: David Watts (2nd year as a head coach at G.W. Long and as a head coach, 8-2)
2021 record: 8-2 overall, 6-1 in Class 2A, Region 2, first round of Class 2A state playoffs
2021 results: at Elba # (W, 35-16); Houston County # (W, 45-16); at Ariton # (L, 21-27); Daleville (W, 54-8); at Zion Chapel # (W, 49-0); Cottonwood # (W, 38-12); at Geneva County # (W, 49-20); Abbeville # (W, 41-0); at Houston Academy (W, 21-20). STATE PLAYOFFS: at B.B. Comer (L, 29-37)
Points scored/per game: 382/38.2
Points allowed/per game: 156/15.6
Returning offensive starters (6): QB/WR Bryson Hughes (Jr.); WR Jakiire Reeding (Sr.); WR Hayes Horne (Sr.); WR Tanner Johnston (Sr.); OL/FB Austin Kerchner (Sr.); OL Garrett Traylor (Sr.)
Returning defensive starters (5): DL Garrett Traylor (Sr.); LB Austin Kerchner (Sr.); LB Brant Brady (Sr.); S Tanner Johnston (Sr.); DB Brayden Whitehead (Sr.)
Aug. 19 off
Aug. 26 Slocomb
Sept. 2 Samson #
Sept. 9 at Ariton #
Sept. 16 Geneva County #
Sept. 23 at Dale County #
Sept. 30 at Zion Chapel #
Oct. 7 at Cottonwood #
Oct. 14 at Abbeville #
Oct. 21 Wicksburg #
Oct. 28 Rehobeth
# Denotes region contests