WENDELL — Each new season presents high school football coaches with varying and repetitive questions about their respective teams.
Who is returning? Who is expected to stand out? Where are strengths and weaknesses? And most of all, what are the expectations of this year’s team?
With the first graduating class of a dozen seniors, many of them starters or key performers, those questions would be more than relevant to Corinth Holders’ coach Barry Honeycutt. They are, but then again, they are not.
That’s because for the Pirates, in just their third year as a varsity program, there is an abundance of talent and experience, which makes this season one of high hopes and expectations.
“We have a group that has been here for a while,” Honeycutt said, noting that many players had been with the program since its first campaign, squaring off against junior varsity and ninth-grade teams. “They are experienced to that degree, and we have a really good group of ninth and 10th-grade students on our junior varsity, so we feel good about our future and what’s going to happen down the road.”
Honeycutt beamed about the turnout, noting 42 candidates working with the varsity unit and over 60 for the jayvees.
“Our varsity kids learned a little bit about winning last season,” Honeycutt said, referring to the Pirate’s mid-season turnaround from a 16-game losing streak, dating back to the Pirates’ first season of varsity competition, to a 5-2 finish, including a playoff appearance. That finish was adjusted to 6-1 when the Pirates received a forfeit victory against a conference rival. “Definitely something to build on. The kids saw the difference from being 0-11 and winning enough games to finish third in the conference (adjusted to second with the forfeit) and making it to the playoffs.”
Part of the exuberance is guarded, however – realignment has the Pirates moving up from the Northern Carolina 2A Conference into the newly-established Two Rivers 3A Conference, along with fellow county rivals Smithfield-Selma, Cleveland and South Johnston.
“Our big question is being in a new conference,” Honeycutt said. “And how we will perform, going from 2A to 3A. It will be a lot of new for us. It will be a building step for us. Going to a 3A league with a lot of teams that have had tremendous success over the past few years and will be tough opponents.
“We have to be able to make that transition.”
Many of the Pirates’ looks, on both sides of the ball, are based on the abilities of the players to perform at several positions, with the secondary among the top areas with diversification. Honeycutt and his staff are looking at different combinations in the secondary, with individuals able to move from defensive end to corner to safety to strong safety without missing a beat.
“We have guys working who are not locked into certain positions and can move around,” Honeycutt said. “When you throw the ball 50-60 percent of the time and face others who do the same, you need diversification.”
Honeycutt listed Tori Carmichael, Dymon Walker and Kiyon Walden among his defensive backs, while David Pearson and Kendall Cobb, Billy Morales and Jason Homick man the defensive line.
The Pirates will return several receivers on offense but will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in either Matt Good and Cole Sakowski. Both are experienced, with Good stepping up last year during the Pirates’ second-half run as well as the playoff loss to Reidsville; while Sakowski earned his stripes during his freshman campaign two years ago.
Honeycutt said the Pirates will probably throw 50-60 percent of the time from their single back set with four wide receivers.
The duo will have a plethora of individuals to throw to, ranging up to at least eight capable receivers. Topping that list are Hampton Smith, Carmichael and Harrison Usher, all deemed by Honeycutt as gifted receivers with the ability to run deep routes and make the big plays.
Running will be by committee, with his backs showing versatility in the ability to block and catch the ball as well as carry the mail.
The Pirates will have a stable of individuals who can do just that, led by Darris Grandberry, who started at running back last season, before William Floyd came to life in the latter half of the season. Grandberry will split time with Demetrius Smith, Butler Collins and Elliott Lindley.
A stout offensive line, anchored by Jared Johnson, Pearson and Chris Solano will enable the Pirates to move the ball.
Collins, Lindley, Grandberry and Usher will split time at the linebacker position, which Honeycutt says has depth and experience in the Pirates’ 4-3 defensive look.
One of the Pirates’ biggest needs comes at special teams, where Kody Whitley and Alden Sharp handled place kicking and punting chores. Honeycutt feels that slot has been aptly filled by Daniel Farmer, who has been consistently hitting field goals from 37 yards out, while placing his kickoffs to the 10-yard line and deeper.
“I can’t say enough about what Daniel Farmer has done to be ready to handle the kicking chores,” Honeycutt said. “All we ask for is consistency.”