Tigerville, S.C. – It might only be March, but North Grenville Football is back in action as players and coaches work through their second week of spring practice. The Crusaders are six practices deep as of Wednesday afternoon and are looking to build on the momentum of a 2016 playoff run.
The Crusaders weathered what was said by many to be most difficult schedule in Division II football, facing three teams that earned playoff bids, as well as a Wingate squad, which finished the season ranked inside the top-10 of the Super Region II. The Crusaders also faced The Citadel, a Division I FCS member that also made the NCAA playoffs.
The North Greenville coaching staff has a plan for this spring, focusing on improving fundamentals at every position. “We also want to practice efficiently,” remarked head coach Jeff Farrington, who is heading into his heading into his fifth season in Tigerville. “We’re also wanting to create as much depth at possible at the offensive line position and retool the defensive backfield.”
HELP WANTED: DEFENSIVE BACKS LOOKING FOR PLAYMAKERS
The defensive backs will be a position of focus for Coach Farrington and defensive backs coach Maurice Duncan. The “Legion of Doom” was hit hard by graduation following the 2016 season with five starting rolls needing to be filled. Among the graduating backs is interceptions leader Nigel Gay and defensive captain and enforcer Tony Godbolt.
Travis Beatty looks to be one of the successors at the position. Beatty saw playing time at defensive back as well as special teams last season and came up big in key situations for the Crusaders, including a game clinching interception against Wingate. Cam Wrice started three games for NGU last season as well. Johnny Worthy and Rodney Landrum are also guys that Coach Duncan looks to compete for a starting bid.
FILLING THE GAPS
The defensive staff will also look to fill the gaps at a few other positions with the graduation of familiar faces such as Sam Houston, Quan Weeks, and Shaquan Burney. Anthony Blair has been one of NGU’s most consistent performers on the defensive line and will look to continue that trend heading into the 2017-season. Seth Laughter also became a household name in 2016 and is continuing his upward trend as one of the standouts of spring practice thus far.
At linebacker, look for Brandon Burger to stake claim as he proved to be one of the surprise performers for the team last season. Burger was fourth on the team in tackles last season and came up clutch in the playoffs for the Crusaders, coming up with a key interception against Florida Tech that led to the first touchdown of the game for North Greenville. Eddie Studyvance and Randy Brown could also be impact players for the Crusaders in 2017.
FIRE POWER: NGU OFFENSE AIMS HIGHER
One of the biggest questions heading into 2016 was who was going to replace four-year starter Nelson Hughes at quarterback. Well, Will Hunter filled the void nicely for the Crusaders, finishing the season with over 3,000-yards passing and 23-touchdowns. All of Hunter’s main weapons will return next season, including leading receiver Javon Smith who led the team with 776 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Mason Sanders also returns for his final season in Tigerville, giving Hunter a tall receiver with a knack for the jump ball.
The offensive weapons don’t stop at the receiver position. The Crusaders also return leading rusher Tracy Scott who was a breakout performer in his inaugural season in red and black. Tristan Jackson at running back and Bobby Foos at tight end add depth at tailback and give NGU quarterbacks another option in the passing game. Ashton Heard will also return for his senior season at tailback, adding yet another dimension to North Greenville's running game.
BACK FOR MORE
Offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo will get another piece of the puzzle back this season as wide receiver Robbie Brown returns from injury, bolstering North Greenville’s wide receiver position. Brown suffered a knee injury late in the 2015 season and elected to redshirt last year to rehab. His return to the line-up will add speed and depth to an already dangerous unit.
Brown was the team’s leading receiver in 2014 with over 1,000-receiving yards on 80-catches. Brown also found the end zone eight times. He was also one of the team’s top performers in 2015 before an injury in eighth game of the season.
TRENCH WARFARE: CRUSADERS RETURNING PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE UP FRONT
The big guys up front don't get much recognition, but the North Greenville front five was the fuel that spurred the NGU offense. The men in the trenches routinely bullied opponents to the tune of 432-yards a game including 191-yards on the ground and 241-yards through the air. A unit that weathered several injuries this season and continued its production paved the way for 29-touchdowns on the ground and held back defenders for 24-touchdowns through the air. Two of NGU's returners, Micheal Thomas and Caleb Harris earned All-Region and All-America honors last season from Don Hansen.
Field goal kicking was one of the most improved areas of North Greenville's offense last season. Matt Gravely was an instant upgrade at kicker and it showed as he was perfect in extra points for NGU and tied the record for longest field goal which was set by his brother at 47-yards. Gravely was 15 of 21 in field goal attempts including an impressive five of nine on attempts from 40-yards or longer.
The field position battle in football is a game within a game. North Greenville often won this battle with the help of sophomore booter Bobby Foos. The second-year starter flipped field position in favor of the Crusaders several times this season, booming 14-punts of 50-yards or more, downing 23- of his 65-attempts inside the 20-yardline. His long of the season came against Tuskegee in the 2nd round of the playoffs. But Foos wasn’t just a defensive weapon for North Greenville, doubling as a tight end, making an impact on the offensive side of the ball as well. He caught 20-passes this season, turning three of those receptions into scores, including a long of 64-yards.
Coach Farrington on his team's spring practice performances: “Our team has shown a good attitude toward practice and the work it takes to move forward. I have always been very proud of the ‘energy’ brought day in and day out by the Crusaders in the past. These guys have to continue to uphold that standard of consistent energy and work ethic.”
The Crusaders will have their first of three spring scrimmages this Saturday at 10AM in Younts Stadium.
SPRING SCRIMMAGE DATES (ALL SCRIMMAGES HELD IN YOUNTS STADIUM)
Saturday, March 4, 2017 - 10AM
Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 7PM
Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 12PM