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It's the fourth season of Covington football under coach Dave Miller and the expectations are higher than ever - and with good reason.
The Buccs return all but four players who started throughout the season on a playoff team from a year ago and graduated a total of six seniors. Plus, Covington's numbers are at 49 kids, the most in Miller's tenure as Buccaneer coach.
"It's good to see the numbers are growing in the program," said Miller. "We have a big freshman class this year, so that helps."
But it's finding replacements for the four seniors who led the charge last year that will be crucial to Covington's success, especially early in the season.
"We lost Garrett (Clark), Ben (Christian), Teddy (Hale) and Jordy (Meyer)," Miller explained. "Jordy and Teddy were two of the best book ends I've had at any level, so they'll be tough to replace. Garrett put up some big numbers at fullback and was the breakaway threat you like, so he'll be a tough one to replace too. And Ben Christian was one heck of a lineman, so we'll need some guys to pick up the slack there as well."
Fortunately Miller and the Buccs appear to have the situation at fullback resolved as senior Cory Ely has shown the ability to grind out the tough yardage and even has a burst for the long run.
Ely will be backed up by sophomore Alex Baskerville and freshman Bobby Alexander.
"I feel comfortable with our fullback situation," Miller said. "Cory is a hard nosed kid who has been waiting his turn and now it's his time. Hopefully he takes full advantage of the opportunity."
Christian's absence on the interior lines on both sides of the ball should be minimized due to the depth on the Buccaneer roster.
"We have a lot of kids vying for starting positions on both the offensive and defensive lines," stated Miller. "I feel we are physically stronger up front than we were last year, but that still has yet to translate onto the field. If, and I emphasize IF, we can maximize our potential up front, we should be a bear."
Miller and the Buccaneer coaching staff are still searching for players to emerge as the two new book ends for the Covington defense, the spots where Jordy Meyer and Teddy Hale wreaked havoc last season.
"We have five or six guys battling it out there," said Miller. "Hopefully we get all of those guys emerging as reliable options, because those are some big shoes to fill."
The battle going on to replace Meyer and Hale is between seniors Sam Angle and Zach Baumgardner, along with sophomores Alex Baskerville, Austin Angle and Gabe Mohler. Another option is senior Jake Stewart, who can also play inside.
"We have some options with Stewey (Jake Stewart)," Miller continued. "He's quick and athletic enough where we can play him inside or outside."
Up front defensively Miller sees a strength with power and quickness, a defensive front anchored by senior four-year starter Josh Boehringer and junior three-year starter Darren Clark. Throw in the luxury of rotating the likes of juniors Sam Christian, Steven Blei and Brandon Powell, as well as sophomore Brian Olson, the Buccs have the makings of a powerful defensive front.
"With what we have on our schedule, we'll have to control the line of scrimmage," Miller emphasized. "We have the potential to be very good up front."
Covington's linebackers are also a strength with the return of seniors Cory Ely and Ben Wilson, along with sophomore Dylan Owens. All three saw significant playing time last season.
"We have a lot of depth at linebacker," said Miller. "All those guys played a lot last year and then you throw in some of the younger guys like Dalton Bordelon and Bobby Alexander, we're pretty deep there."
Last season the Buccs entered the season wet behind the ears in the defensive backfield, but that only made for an experienced group returning this season with seniors Tyler Noffsinger and Cory Haines, juniors Sam Earick and Isaiah Winston and sophomores Kyler Deeter, Trent Tobias and Troy Cron. Plus, freshman A.J. Ouellette has impressed and may see quality time in the secondary.
"I feel very good about our defensive backfield," Miller stressed. "Last year we were a little young and inexperienced back there, but the kids improved a lot over the course of last year and throughout the summer."
Offensively, to complement the fullback position, Covington is also the deepest it has been in Miller's tenure at the quarterback position as senior Jake Bitner returns as the starter and junior Isaiah Winston retains the backup role.
"I'm very comfortable with our quarterback situation because we actually have two starting caliber quarterbacks," said Miller. "Jake will be the starter, but Isaiah is right there with him. We can go with either one of those guys at any time."
Sophomores Trent Tobias and Austin Angle both have experience at the junior varsity level and will continue to progress running the reserve squad along with newcomer Justin Williams.
"We have five quarterbacks working our system, which is the most we've had since I've been here," Miller continued in his assessment of the position. "I'm confident we'll be set at quarterback for the next few years. With an offense like the triple (option), that's a huge plus."
The depth continues for the Buccs at running back with the return of seniors Tyler Noffsinger and Ben Wilson, Winston, sophomores Kyler Deeter and Troy Cron and the emergence of freshman A.J. Ouellette.
"We have several weapons in the backfield," said Miller. "The competition there is intense because we have some younger kids that are pushing the upperclassmen. We have a lot of kids who can play the Tailback or the Z Back position."
Covington's not known for the passing game, but with the receiving targets Miller and the Buccaneer quarterbacks have at their disposal, the temptation to put the ball in the air could be too much to resist.
That's because seniors Corey Haines, Sam Angle and Jake Stewart have shown the ability to make the difficult catch look easy and 6'5" sophomore Gabe Mohler is a huge target. Plus the threat of Winston, Noffsinger, Deeter, Cron and Ouellette out of the backfield only ads to the Buccaneer passing game.
"I like the fact that we have the potential to throw the football more than we've had in the past," Miller said. "That just gives opposing defenses more to think about."
As much as Covington has at the skill positions, it's the offensive line that will determine the success of the Buccaneer offense in 2010.
And Covington is deep there too with Josh Boehringer, Darren Clark, Sam Christian, Steven Blei, Brian Olson, Brandon Powell and Zach Baumgardner.
"We're pretty deep on the offensive line, so I'm hoping it gives us more options to platoon," said Miller. "Our offensive line will be the key for us. We have to come off the ball fast and low, blow people off the ball. That's going to be critical to our success."
Special teams is a phase of the game that can be overlooked, but Covington has plenty of options in the kicking game with Steven Blei, Sam Christian and Josh Boehringer conducting the kicking and punting duties.
The return game is a strength as well with the return of Tyler Noffsinger and Isaiah Winston as threats to go the distance. Other kids like Troy Cron and A.J. Ouellette will likely see time in the return game as well.
"We want to put teams into a situation where they have to really consider whether they want to kick it deep or kick it short," Miller said. "If we can make them pay when they kick it deep, it's a plus for us. If they kick it short, then we get good field position. That's a plus for us too. Field position in the return game is huge."
Even with all of the weapons and as much depth as Covington has on the roster, Miller and the Buccs know it's not a guarantee that a sixth straight playoff birth is in the cards.
That's because the Buccs have to stay healthy and continue to work hard in living up to their potential.
"We've had our share of injuries the past couple of years, so we are due for some luck in that area," Miller said. "Staying healthy is one thing. Living up to our potential is another."
Which Covington hasn't done in it's scrimmages against West Milton and Eaton.
"We're not there (at the elite level) yet," said Miller. "We can be, because we do have that potential. We've done all the things we needed to do in the offseason as far as the lifting and conditioning, but we haven't carried that over to the field yet (in practice and scrimmages). As coaches, we're still waiting to see all of that hard work translate onto the field."
Inconsistency has been the issue for the Buccs throughout two-a-days and the scrimmages.
"We're not consistent in our effort and intensity," continued Miller. "We'll look great for two or three days and then have a day where we are flat. For us to get to the next level we have to find a way to play more consistently on a regular basis. We have to play faster and with more effort and intensity on every snap, even in practice. Once we do that, the sky is the limit."
The potential for a historic 2010 season is there. It's up to the kids to make it happen.