Vikes Hit Field First
The Union Pines football team that opens the season at home against Northwood tonight at 7:30 p.m., should have no thoughts about not being prepared.
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Last year, Mike Castle didn't fill the open head football coaching position until about a month before the first official practice.
In the season opener at Northwood, the Viking offense fumbled the ball away on four of its first five possessions in a 38-6 loss. Things didn't get much better in a season that ended with a 1-10 record.
When Elwood Baker replaced Castle as head coach last January, one of his goals was to have his team know all of the plays on both sides of the ball by Aug. 1.
In three scrimmages last week on consecutive nights (two of them of the jamboree variety), the Viking offense and defense each ran about 250 plays.
Earlier in the summer, 24 of the team's skilled players attended 7-on-7 camps in Orlando, at Catawba University and competed against local high schools on Wednesday evenings.
"That gave us about as many game situations as you can get without playing a game," says Baker, who is beginning his 40th year as a football coach. "We just went through three days of intense hitting (at the scrimmages). We are far ahead of last year at this time."
In spite of just two victories (one by forfeit) and 31 losses over the last three years, 110 players came out for this year's team.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the coaches," says senior linebacker Reid Whitaker. "And a lot of the seniors helped get new players to come out."
The numbers should allow Baker to employ two-platoon football, something he feels very strongly about. He plans to run the wing T on offense and the 50 shade defense where the nose guard shifts depending upon the position of the opposition's tight end.
One of the beneficiaries of the offense-oriented 7-on-7 action and scrimmage opportunities was quarterback Travis Monroe. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior got his baptism under fire with the Viking varsity last season.
In the jamboree scrimmage at Northwood, he completed five touchdown passes, one a 40-yard bomb to Durrell Toomer against Southeast Guilford.
"Travis has been nothing but good things," Baker says. "I don't know that I've ever coached a better kid -- not just as an athlete, but overall. He's a good leader and very coachable. He doesn't just talk a good game, he walks the talk."
The Viking passing game was ahead of the running game during the scrimmages, but the latter improved as the week went on.
"The linemen started getting used to the plays and blocking them right," Monroe says. "We don't want to be one-dimensional. We want to be able to run and pass."
Bullish junior John Gallimore (5-10, 225) and Dameon Marsh (5-7, 150), another junior, are expected to get a lot of the carries against Northwood. The wingbacks are senior Cole Butler (5-8, 165) and junior Ricky Smith (5-7, 160).
"John is going to have to carry a big load," says Baker of his inside runner who is also a good receiver.
At split end, dangerous Durrell Toomer (6-3, 180) will be one of Monroe's main targets.
He was one of the few juniors invited to a camp held at Clemson this summer.
Expected to start alongside center Blake Atkins (5-11, 205) on the offensive line are guards Chris Watson (5-8, 165) and Nick Rippey (5-11, 210), tackles James Brown (6-3, 330) and Pete Peterson (5-9, 285), and tight end John Holgers (6-1, 190).
All but Rippey and Brown are seniors.
Improvement from last year will require the offensive unit to move the first-down sticks more often and the defensive unit to force more three and outs.
Whitaker (6-1, 220) saw improvement during the scrimmages.
"I believe everyone is learning to communicate better on the field," says the defensive signal caller. "The defense is going to be ready Friday night."
The starting defensive line will likely include nose guard Dan King (5-7, 305) flanked by tackles Eddie Castillo (6-0, 220) and Justin Raymer (6-1, 320), and ends Joe Cook (6-2, 185) and Grant Warner (6-2, 185).
Filling the other linebacker slot with Whitaker will be senior Patrick Fields (6-3, 180). The three safeties deployed by defensive coordinator Jason Furrie are seniors Jamie Fisher (6-1, 165) and Brent Purser (5-10, 180) and junior Cole Parris (5-9, 165). Expected to line up at cornerback are senior James Toomer (5-8, 150) and junior Michael Garrett (5-8, 145).
"Reid (Whitaker) has been a kid that's helped bring the defense together," Baker says. "He's basically to our defense what Travis is to our offense."
Junior Aaron Breasseale (6-1, 160) will be taking on the punting and place-kicking chores.
Harnett Central is picked by the Cape Fear Valley Conference coaches to finish first this year.
The Vikings are tagged for eighth place.
When Baker, an assistant to Castle last year, took on the coaching challenge, he said that he didn't see any obstacles to a successful football program at Union Pines.
He is also a realist. The first step for the program is to become competitive.
"We'll have 11 games to prove them wrong," Baker says of the prognosticators. "That's all we can do. We want to go on the field holding our heads high and come off the field the same way. We want to come off the field after every game better than we were the game before.
"I think we have a chance to become a good football team if we stay together."
Northwood is coached by former Pinecrest player Bill Hall. After Northwood come rivalry contests at Pinecrest and at home against North Moore.
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