We continue our weekly preseason high school football series with a return hop over to Hillsborough to check in on Cedar Ridge. The Red Wolves struggled through a 2-9 season in their first foray into 3A competition, but with freshly minted interim head coach Clay Jones now at the helm, will fortunes improve in 2014?
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Coach Jones received an unexpected call a few weeks ago from the Cedar Ridge principal and athletic director.
Now, he is knee deep in preparations for the 2014 season after stepping into his new role as the skipper of the Red Wolves. Last season, he served as the quarterbacks coach under head football coach Chris Casey and also fills a dual role as Cedar Ridge’s head basketball coach.
But his resume doesn’t stop there. In addition, down in Yanceyville, N.C., Coach Jones led the offense for two years at Bartlett Yancey High School and performed the duties of athletic director for another year all while serving as the head coach for the area middle school. He’s no stranger to the game.
Coach Jones says he’s looking forward to the opportunity that’s been afforded him with the Cedar Ridge football program.
“I’m very grateful to be here and am enjoying every minute of it so far,” Coach Jones says.
As far as the differences in coaching philosophy between himself and his predecessor, Coach Casey, Coach Jones says they are quite similar, but he tends to run practice on the gridiron much like he runs practice on the hardwood.
“I treat a lot of it like a timed practice in basketball. It’s very similar to how I’m doing it in football. It’s been pretty successful these last few weeks, and I think the kids are responding well. But there aren’t a lot of differences, just a few little changes,” Coach Jones says.
Coach Jones says summer workouts have been productive thus far with good turnouts for both morning and afternoon sessions.
But as most high school coaches can attest, Coach Jones says he faces an uphill battle with garnering optimal attendance. He says he wishes he could make the offseason practices mandatory.
“It’s not mandatory. That’s a battle that any high school program faces this time of year. You’d love to have fifty or sixty varsity guys all there, but kids have commitments on their time. That’s something I chose not to fight,” Coach Jones says.
The strength of the Red Wolves squad may rest in their dynamic duo of wide receivers. Coach Jones says he plans to distribute the ball early and often to returning playmakers Chris McCoy and Julius Walton.
“We have our two returning skill kids on offense. They are going to be big parts of our offense. They are going to touch the ball multiple times in multiple positions. They are going to be big in our return game – punt or kickoff. They are going to be two weapons we are going to try to utilize in several areas,” Coach Jones says.
The guy who will be throwing the football to McCoy and Walton is talented signal caller Peyton Pappas. Coach Jones says he’s expecting big things from his quarterback in 2014.
“It’s very good to have Pappas back under center. I think he’s matured a lot and understands a lot better what he needs to do as a quarterback. He’s grown a lot and got a little stronger. We’re looking for big things out of him,” Coach Jones says.
But although the offense appears to harness adequate firepower, Coach Jones says the biggest question mark may be the performance of the offensive line. He says the inability to get all five guys together over the summer worries him heading into the fall.
“Our biggest question mark right now is our offensive line. We haven’t had a consistent turnout of linemen on a daily basis, where they can all eat, sleep and breathe blocking,” Coach Jones says.
Now that the Red Wolves have a taste of what life in the 3A Big 8 conference is all about, Coach Jones says his kids are extra motivated to be up to the challenge this time around.
“We know the skill level of the teams in this area. We got a pretty good dose of it last year moving up to 3A football. It’s definitely a different animal,” Coach Jones says.
But for now, Coach Jones says Cedar Ridge’s state championship game is scheduled for Aug. 22 – the season opener at Carrboro.