A year ago, Providence Christian’s football team was referred to as the “Baby Eagles” because of their youth with only two seniors on roster.
Head coach Kenny Keith said the nickname no longer applies as PCS gets ready for the 2022 season.
“They are not babies anymore,” Keith said.
After only returning three starters on both sides of the ball last year, 10 starters return on offense and seven on defense for the Eagles, who open the season at home this Friday against Highland Home, a Class 2A state semifinalist last season.
“We are a little older, a little bigger and a little stronger,” Keith said. “We have most everybody back from last year minus the two seniors. We have 13 seniors and 16 juniors. We are looking forward to seeing how they do.
“We had a lot of guys that got to play last year, which was good for them. We had a lot of kids put on some weight and some grew a bit and matured a bit.”
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Providence Christian, which finished 4-6 during his youthful-oriented season, hopes a veteran offensive unit that features starters at every spot except one on the line will be a spark for this year’s team.
A year ago, Harrison Mims (Sr., 5-10, 195) and Craig Pittman (Fr., 5-9, 160) split the quarterback duties, though Pittman did most of the work in the second half of the season.
“My younger kid, Craig Pittman, started playing toward the end of the year, so we are hoping he will be able to take over that job because that gives us more flexibility when he does,” Keith said during a July interview. “Harrison can do a lot of things. He can play quarterback, but it helps us when he does other things.”
If Pittman does start at QB, Mims is likely to see most of his time at fullback. A year ago in splitting time at two positions, Mims rushed for 771 yards and eight touchdowns. Keith added Mims, who enters his third year starting on offense will likely have some reps at QB during the season.
Rylan Banner (Jr., 5-10, 170) returns as a starting tailback. Christian Durden was another key running back last year, but will miss the early part of this season after a second knee surgery from an injury in the spring. Keith said Durden is expected to be back in late September or early October.
Calvin McClintock (So., 6-0, 175) is expected to play some at tailback with Grant Baker (Jr., 6-0, 165) and Chapel Stickler (Jr., 6-1, 180) at the wing back position and Tyson Smith (So., 5-9, 170) as a back-up to Mims at fullback.
The Eagles return both starting tight ends in their tight double-wing set in Connor Odom (Sr., 6-2, 215), who enters his third year as a starter on offense, and Gabe Pemberton (Sr., 6-1, 180). Juniors Eb Anderson and Roman Banner are also projected to see action at tight end.
McClintock, Stickler, Baker and Anderson can also play outside at wide receiver.
The offensive line returns four of five starters with Mason Colley (Jr., 6-3, 270) the biggest of the returning starting linemen. Michael Shivers (Sr., 6-0, 205), Tyler Wilks (Sr., 5-10, 180) and Parker Jernigan (Jr., 6-2, 240) are the other returning OL starters.
Zuri Scott, a transfer from Georgia, is projected as the other line starter. Scott is a 6-foot-2, 265-pound junior. Charlie McGhee (Jr.) and Will Price (So.) are other players expected to see playing time up front.
“I feel good about the offensive line because they know what to do,” Keith said. “They have done it already. They were thrown into the fire last year, so they know what to expect and to me that is big. They feel comfortable.”
Defensively, the Eagles have to rebuild the line where the lone two seniors of last year played.
Odom returns to anchor that line. Zach Vincent (Jr., 6-6, 220), Pemberton and Scott are expected to join Odom up front. Colley, Jernigan, Josiah Moncrief (Sr.), Trey Douglas (Sr.), Roman Banner and Reid Farris (Jr.) are others who will see significant action on the D-line.
The Eagles return all four starting linebackers – Mims and Smith on the inside and Pemberton and Rylan Banner on the outside. McGhee and Wilkes will also play at inside linebacker, while Baker will play some at the outside spot.
The secondary returns cornerback starter Stickler, but took a hit with a season-ending injury to the other returning cornerback starter Davis Bolton (Jr., 5-10, 160) late in the summer. C.J. Sullivan (Jr., 5-11, 150) will replace Bolton in the line-up.
McClintock and Baker are the projected players to fill the vacant starting spots at the safety positions. Anderson is expected to play some at safety and at cornerback and David McClurklin (So.) at a cornerback spot.
Though PCS has to fill some voids on defense, most of the other projected starters such as McClintock, Baker, Vincent and Sullivan all saw a lot of action last year, said Keith.
“Experience always help,” Keith said of the defense. “I have a lot of guys that have experience so I feel good that they know what to do, know where to be and know what to expect. So I feel confident because they have played a lot.”
On special teams, Mims returns as the Eagles punter, while Layton Hagler (Jr., 5-9, 150) is handling the kicking roles of placekicking, extra points and field goals. Colley is the snapper for the punts and kicks.
Once again, Providence Christian competes in Class 3A, Region 2, but the region got a makeover after reclassification with four new teams compared to last year in what is now a nine-team region instead of eight. Ashford and Straughn both dropped down from 4A, while nearby rival Northside Methodist is eligible for the first time and was placed in the region. Pike County returns to the region after being in Region 6 last year. Gone from the region are Slocomb (now in Class 4A) and Wicksburg (down to 2A)
“We have a lot of new teams in the region this year and that will be fun,” Keith said. “It made my schedule a whole lot easier with a nine-team region instead of an eight, so I only have two non-region games. We will see some new teams which is good.”
The two non-region games are Highland Home and Elba.
EAGLES AT A GLANCE
Head coach: Kenny Keith (11th year at Providence Christian and as a head coach, 64-43)
2021 record: 4-6 record, 2-4 in Class 3A, Region 2
2021 results: Rehobeth (L, 7-34); at Northside Methodist (W, 49-30); Wicksburg # (L, 0-20); at Slocomb # (L, 0-30); Elba (L, 6-27); Opp # (L, 18-41); Houston Academy # (L, 0-54); at New Brockton # (W, 34-20); at Daleville # (W, 41-6); at Florala (W, 33-20)
Points scored/per game: 188/18.8
Points allowed/per game: 282/28.2
Returning offensive starters (10): QB Craig Pittman (Fr., 5-9, 160); FB Harrison Mims (Sr., 5-10, 195); TB Rylan Banner (Jr., 5-10 170); TE Connor Odom (Sr., 6-2, 215); TE Gabe Pemberton (Sr., 6-1, 180);WR Chapel Stickler (Jr., 6-1, 180); OL Michael Shivers (Sr., 6-0, 205); OL Mason Colley (Jr., 6-3, 270); OL Tyler Wilks (Sr., 5-10, 180); OL Parker Jernigan (Jr., 6-2, 240);
Returning defensive starters (7): DE Conner Odom (Sr., 6-2, 215); ILB Harrison Mims (Sr., 5-10, 195); ILB Tyson Smith (So., 5-9 170); OLB Gabe Pemberton (Sr., 6-1, 180); OLB Rylan Banner (Jr., 5-10, 170); CB Chapel Stickler (Jr., 6-1, 180); CB Davis Bolton (Jr., 5-10, 160)
Aug. 19 Highland Home
Aug. 26 at Ashford #
Sept. 2 New Brockton #
Sept. 9 at Opp #
Sept. 16 off
Sept. 23 at Elba
Sept. 30 Northside Methodist #
Oct. 7 at Pike County #
Oct. 14 Daleville #
Oct. 21 at Houston Academy #
Oct. 28 Straughn #
# Denotes region contest