Crusader Football Spring Practice Report
Tigerville, SC – After the rain and cold weather disappeared, the Crusader football team got back on the field to begin spring practice this past week in preparation for the 2014 season. The Crusaders have a week of spring practice under their belts as they get closer to the Annual Red and Black game to be held in Younts Stadium on April 10 in Tigerville.
Quarterbacks: The Crusaders begin spring practice with a familiar face under center as junior Nelson Hughes returns after a sophomore season in which he set numerous school records including completion percentage (66.6 percent) and passing yards (3,202) while totaling 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Redshirt freshman Mark Weidenaar also returns to the Crusaders after a year learning the system and refining his skill and will be the team’s #2 quarterback during the spring session.
Running Backs: The Crusader backfield will also be an area with recognizable faces returning to the field for North Greenville as the team’s top two rushers from 2013 return as well as some new faces looking to make an impact. Junior Trey Walker started all 11 games a season ago, leading the attack with 170 carries for 877 rushing yards, including three games going over the century mark, and seven touchdowns, while proving his versatility in the passing game with 30 receptions for 230 yards and three scores through the air. Sophomore Simeon Byrd also returns after totaling 324 all-purpose yards and five total touchdowns in nine games played, while sophomore Ashton Heard is fully recovered from a knee injury and is expected to see snaps in the offensive backfield for the Crusader offense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The receiving corps returns many familiar faces to the field this spring while looking to replace arguably the most dominant receiver in Division II football from a season ago. The graduation of Freddie Martino (146 receptions, 1,680 yards, 12 touchdowns in 2013) leaves an open spot at the #1 receiver position with a number of players looking to take his place. Sophomore DeVontez Rouse was the Crusaders’ second leading receiver last year, totaling 42 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns in just nine games after a shoulder injury sidelined him at the end of the year.
Fellow sophomore Tyrecous Garrett caught 26 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games, while junior Tyrell Hillary also saw action in every game, totaling 15 receptions for 185 yards from the slot. Senior Thomas Weeks is fully recovered from a broken collarbone suffered just three games into the season, while sophomore Robbie Brown and junior transfer Tyler Klipa (Western Carolina) provide additional targets for North Greenville. The tight end position also returns two players who saw significant time on the field last season in senior Brock Frisbee and junior Blake Bensch who both provide a wealth of experience on the field.
Offensive Line: North Greenville’s offensive line will also look to fill a few holes left by the graduation of two seniors from last year’s unit. Eight of the returning 10 lineman saw action on the field during the fall, whether it be on offense or on the special teams unit as the linemen allowed just 18 sacks on the season and helped the Crusaders to 120.6 rushing yards per game and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Seniors Armani Delaney and Griffin Marsh along with junior Matthew Rochester return to give the team significant experience up front. Transfer Charles Coleman comes to Tigerville for one season after spending three seasons at The Citadel, having played in 21 games at the Division I level, while sophomores Armon Lindsay, Cory Hoesli, Dillon Alford and Parks Wallington each saw playing time during last season.
Defensive Line: The Crusader defensive line will be a unit expecting to develop young talent throughout the spring. Junior LeeShawn Cromedy (eight tackles, one tackle for loss in nine games) and sophomore Caleb Adkins (six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack in six games) are the unit’s most experienced players until the return of junior Antonio Barron (53 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks in 10 games) from a knee injury suffered in the team’s final game last season. Redshirt freshmen Renwick McNeil, Anthony Blair and Johnny Burch will each have a chance to make an impact in the trenches, while sophomore Shaquan Burney (49 tackles, three tackles for loss, one fumble recovery) makes the move to the defensive line after playing nine games at middle linebacker in the fall.
Linebackers: Commonly an area of strength for the Crusaders, the linebacker corps is looking to replace one of its top producers with the departure of defensive captain Braelen Meredith (89 tackles, 13 tackles, for loss, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble). Senior Nick Rodgers (81 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack) returns to provide experience and leadership in the middle, while sophomores Sam Houston (43 tackles, two tackles for loss) and Quan Weeks (26 tackles, two tackles for loss) will also see time in the middle of the field.
On the outside, sophomore Reubyn Walker (88 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble) is back as junior Taylor Anderson (23 tackles, one tackle for loss, three interceptions in 2012) moves from the secondary after back surgery sidelined him for the 2013 season. Senior Rashad Simmons and junior John Higgins also return to provide leadership and experience on the defensive side of the ball.
Secondary: The North Greenville secondary returns all but two members of a unit that limited opponents to just 225.3 yards per game after starting four freshmen in the fall. Sophomore safeties KJ McDonald (64 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, six pass break ups) and Tony Godbolt (62 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, nine pass break ups) return as the last line of defense. Seniors Quantel Mack and Andre Hennie both make the move from cornerback to safety to provide experience and leadership.
Sophomore cornerbacks Nigel Gay (55 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions seven pass break ups) and Rochar Witherspoon (28 tackles, one tackle for loss, three pass break ups) along with senior Cejay Thomas (18 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass break ups) and junior Zamardre Wingfield (28 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, five pass break ups).
One area of stability for the Crusaders will be special teams, as the team’s primary punter and two kickers return. Senior kicker/punter Justin Gravely returns after a 2013 season in which he totaled a team-high 29 punts, including 11 inside the 20-yard line and seven punts over 50 yards, for an average of 41.8 yards per punt, while converting a school-record 12-of-20 field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards and was successful on 35-of-39 point-after attempts. Fellow senior Parker Langford handled all of the kickoff duties as he totaled 59 kickoffs for an average of 60 yards per kick, including seven touchbacks, as opposing teams started at their own 22-yard line on average.
Gay is back to continue his punt return duties after totaling 18 punt returns for an average of 10.2 yards per return, while junior Classe Thompson was the Crusaders’ top kick returner last season with 18 kickoff returns for an average of 17.5 yards per return with Gay close behind after returning 14 kickoffs for an average of 18.4 yards return. Witherspoon (12 returns, 18.7 yards per return), Hillary (five returns, 17 yards per return) and Brown (three returns, 22.7 yards per return) also saw time in the return game a year ago.