2018 Spring Practice Outlook: Defense ready to lead in 2018

2018 Spring Practice Outlook: Defense ready to lead in 2018
Monday, March 12, 2018
2018 Spring Practice Outlook: Defense ready to lead in 2018

Tigerville, S.C. – North Greenville football has its first walk-through on Monday, kicking off 2018 spring drills. Here are a couple possisions to keep an eye on through spring practice and into fall camp in August.

New Faces

  • North Greenville head coach Jeff Farrington had his work cut out for him this offseason, having to hire a new offensive coordinator and a new leader for the defensive line after Joe Pizzo left to take over the same position at Mercer while Joe Novotasky moved from the football staff to the strength and conditioning staff.
  • Trey Elder was brought in to take over North Greenville’s offense while the defensive line spot will be filled in the coming days. Elder comes to North Greenville from Woodruff High School where he spent the previous four years as head coach of the Wolverines. Before his stint at Woodruff, Elder coached wide receivers at his alma mater Appalachian State as well as Western Carolina after a brief time at Byrnes High School. For more on Elder CLICK HERE

The North Greenville Offense

  • For the first time in a few years, NGU’s offense has some holes to fill after the departure of several seniors left vacancies at the running back position, wide receivers, and across the offensive line.
  • The Crusaders have had solid depth across the offensive line in previous years, but more impressively, that depth also had experience. This Spring, Coach Shuler will look to replace two of the mainstays over the past several years in Casey Stewart and Micheal Thomas. The duo finished their NGU careers this fall with 80 combined games under their belt including three playoff games.
  • Starting quarterback Will Hunter will have a trio of new starters to look for in 2018 with the departure of Mason Sanders, Robbie Brown, and Dieonte Bryant. Sanders was North Greenville’s largest target at receiver, standing at 6 – 6 and weighing 230-pounds while Bryant added a dose of speed and could go up and get it as evidenced by his one-handed grab against Tusculum. Between the pair, Sanders had the more eye-popping numbers, catching 129-passes for 1,816 yards and 24 touchdowns in four seasons with the Crusaders. Bryant, who spent two seasons in Tigerville had 15-catches for 171-yards and a score but was a big play threat that defenses had to mark on every down. Robbie Brown returned in 2018 after a couple seasons recuperating from a knee injury. He returned to lead the team with 605-yards on 47-catches and four touchdowns.
  • The running back corps took the biggest hit on offense as four players including the duo of Tristen Jackson and Ashton Heard. North Greenville benefitted for three years with a trio of backs that easily step in and start in Jackson, Heard, and Tracy Scott who returns in 2018. The stable of running backs remained mostly healthy because of quality depth, as Heard and Jackson were capable of carrying the load alone, or by committee. Jackson finished his career with 886-yards on 171-carries and 11- scores but was an insurance policy in the backfield as a blocker on passing downs and was also NGU’s go-to on short yardage situations.
  • Ashton Heard’s departure leaves a void of more than 500-yards and five touchdowns a season that will need filling. Heard led the Crusaders in rushing in 2016 and finished his career with 2,821 total yards (487-yards receiving and 3 TD’s) as well as 20 total career touchdowns on the ground.

Names to Watch For

  • On the offensive line, look for guys such as Jewl Bell and Gage Smith who combined to play in 12-games last season. 
  • At wideout, the Crusaders have several options to fill holes including sophomore Harold Hilton. Hilton was used mostly in the return game last season but came on strong in the ladder half of the season. Guys like Christian Bruce and Demajiay Rooks will see their roles increase even more this season as the two leading returners.
  • At running back, Javion Miller-Norman will have his chance to crack the top three during the spring.
  • With no turnover at tight end, the Crusaders can look to returners Dom Richardson and Bobby Foos to carry the load. Foos had 11 catches for 215 yards and a score last season.

North Greenville Defense

  • Defensively NGU is looking solid heading into the spring practice calendar with only a handful of spots that need looked at. Defensive coordinator Greg Harris will look to fill spots left by Randy Brown and Daulton Pilgrim at linebacker while Rondarius Thompson and Johnny Burch left a couple gaps in the defensive line depth.
  • Pilgrim and Brown were both fixtures for the Crusaders at the backer spot with more than 40 combined games under their belts. Brown finished his career with 92 total tackles (34 solo / 58 assists) and a pair of sacks while Pilgrim, who played through an injury during his senior campaign racked up 55 tackles (13 solo / 55 assists) and 3.5 tackles for a loss in his career.
  • Across the defensive front, Rondarious Thompson and Johnny Burch finished their careers with North Greenville in 2018. Burch will leave the biggest shoes to fill as he played in 32 games in the red and black, finishing with 85 tackles including 23 solo and 62 assisted stops. He also turned in five total quarterback sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss.
  • Perhaps the position that is poised to carry the NGU defense this season is the defensive backfield. For the first time in several seasons, the Crusaders return all of its talent from a year ago including Travis Beatty and Johnny Worthy.Both had 61-tackles on the season with Beatty leading the Crusaders with two interceptions. Worthy capped his season with one interception to go with a forced fumble and a recovery. Beatty also forced one fumble in 10-games of action.

Names to Watch For

  • At linebacker, Jacob Harper looks to play a bigger role in 2018 after a solid redshirt freshman campaign. Harper totaled 31-tackles and had an interception as well as a fumble recovery. Matthew Thomas will return for his junior year along with Eddie Studyvance, suring up the NGU front seven.
  • DB’s coach Maurice Duncan will also have the advantage of having 10-players with at least five games on their resume including Cam Wrice who played in all 10 2017 games and Adrian McGee who played in nine. Wrice had 21-tackles and seven break-ups with an interception last season while McGee finished with 22 stops with a break-up and a forced fumble.
  • Across NGU’s front line of defenders, Seth Laughter and Desmond Williams return as the anchors. Laughter is a big body in the middle and a run stuffer adds a solid pass rusher from the edge. Williams is also a threat on special teams, finishing last season with three blocked kicks, ranking him in the top 20 in Division II.

Special Teams

  • North Greenville special teams should be just that in 2018, special. With the return of starting placekicker Matt Gravley and one of the best punters in the country in Bobby Foos, the kicking game should be a dangerous part of North Greenville’s attack.
  • Gravely made 19 of 26 field goals last season and was five of six from 30 to 40 yards. More impressively, Gravely was seven of 11 on kicks from 40 to 49 and a perfect two for two on 50+ including a school-record 52-yarder against Lenoir-Rhyne.
  • Foos finished the season with a 39.8-yard average, but sailed five kicks of 50 or more yards and pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line 16 times in 47 chances.

The 2018 spring practice schedule can be found HERE. The annual Red & Black Spring Game is scheduled on the evening of Thursday, April 5, 2018.