LEWISBURG (WVDN) – The Greenbrier East defense will have a lot to prove this year.
Last season was one of the better defenses the Spartans have had in quite some time as they allowed just 17.1 points per game against a tough schedule that included the state playoff game against George Washington.
However, this year’s defense will feature many new, unfamiliar faces up front and at linebacker. In the secondary, East’s top offensive players will roam the area and try to get the ball back basically for themselves.
Luke Carola will lead the defensive line and has the most experience of the bunch. The senior started last year and has put in a lot of work to get better, and it should show this coming season. Joining Carola along the line will be two first year starters, James McCraw and Charlie Warlitner. Both youngsters are hard workers that will gain experience and get better each week. Sam Wright and Blake Dowdy will also see action.
What the unit will lack in veterans, they will make up for with quickness and coach Ray Lee is anxious to see how they perform.
“Our defensive line is quick off the ball and all of them run very well for their size. Luke brings a lot of experience and knows what takes place on the defensive front having started 11 games last season. McCraw and Charlie are hardworking players, who will be counted on a great deal to make some plays against some of our opponents’ offensive lines that we know are going to be more experienced than they were last year,” Lee said.
The linebacker corps continues the string of first year starters with each starter at the position starting for the first time ever for the program.
Abram Wickline, Landon Vanfosson, C.W. Sturgell and Chris Sinclair will man their respective spots. Replacing Kamon Anderson, Garrett Bennett and Jarett McHale will be tough to do, but these four are more than ready for their turn to get into the spotlight. Weston Pence and Carter Hamilton will also be counted on in certain situations.
Lee has confidence, however, because the group really understands what they need to do and that they must work together to do it.
“Our group of linebackers that we have are all tough, like to hit, and can run,” Lee explained.
“Despite their lack of game experience, they all know what we are trying to accomplish defensively. Abram is probably our most improved player from last season. He added about 10-12 pounds of muscle in the weight r.oom and it really shows on the field. C.W. is not afraid of contact at all and does a great job of playing downhill. Sinclair is making strides every day in practice adjusting to playing inside for the first time. He isn’t going to wow you with his weight, but he plays much bigger than what he is listed at. We are very pleased with the way they are playing right now and hope they only continue to get better,” Lee added.
Last year, Bryson Ormsbee and Levi Wagner led an experienced secondary. Wagner tied for the state-lead in interceptions and Ormsbee played for four years in the backend and is now at Alderson Broaddus.
This year the secondary features arguably the top four players on offense that will play double duty in hopes of making the defense a strength of the team.
Monquelle Davis will start for the first time in his career at cornerback and be joined on the opposite side of the field by Lucas McCallister, a three-year starter.
Star running back Ian Cline will man the free safety position and Jake Pate will line up at strong safety. The secondary has a ton of experience and will be looked on to be the quarterbacks of the defense early on which is fitting considering Davis is the quarterback on offense as well. Last year, Pate had 65 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Cline had 32 tackles and McCallister had 14, so there is definitely some production returning at the position. For depth, youngsters Donavin Penn and Kaden Stone are waiting their chance as well.
And it is no surprise that Lee exudes the most confidence in that secondary spot.
“Our secondary has a ton of game experience. All of these guys are athletic and can get to the ball no matter where it is on the field. They are very knowledgeable of our coverages and all of them aren’t afraid to finish plays with aggression,” Lee said.
“Monquelle has done a great job of adjusting to playing defense and brings more athleticism to that side of the ball adding to what was already there. Pate is capable of playing multiple spots on defense and in all honesty, we could line him up anywhere on the field. Jake likes finishing plays with physicality and we are expecting him to be the leader of that group. Donavin Penn will also see action in the secondary playing spot duty for each one of these guys. All of these guys play offense as well, so Donavin will be able to come off the bench and offer some breathing time for any of these four,” Lee added.
The kicker and punter positions are in excellent hands with returning three-year starter Noah Dotson, an honorable mention all-stater a year ago.
When speaking of Dotson, Lee is all smiles.
“In my opinion there is not a harder working specialist in the state. Noah works hard every day, both in the offseason and during the season. He is extremely dedicated to perfecting his craft. If a person was to walk into our weight room back in late winter or early spring you could not have picked him out as being the kicker based off the effort he was giving in there everyday,” Lee said.
“He worked just as hard as anyone else at any other position on the team. Noah has a strong desire to go on to the next level and play college ball. With his improvement over the past two season, his work ethic, and great attitude you will see him somewhere in college on Saturdays kicking,” Lee said.
Hamilton, Chris Jacobs, Pence and Caleb Tolley all are expected to be big contributors on special teams.
They all have a great deal of reps playing special teams and know our schemes in that area of the game. They will be looked upon as the leaders of these groups and looked upon to make big plays,” Lee said.