Cannon tries to leave injuries behind

Having more wins than losses in its first year as a varsity team last season, Cannon team members hope to improve in the team's second go-around.

Despite battling several injuries, including four broken hands and a torn ACL for two-way Cougar starters, coach Donnie Hayes' squad finished the year 5-4.

"Considering all those injuries and our youth and inexperience, we couldn't be happier," he said.

Hayes hopes his more experienced team, which features 16 seniors, can stay healthy and make its first trip to the playoffs this season.

Losing only two starters, one to graduation and another one to a transfer, the Cougars will have a good grasp of Hayes' system. The team's senior class has been playing for Hayes all four years of high school - the first two at the junior varsity level.

On the offensive end, Cannon will be again led by quarterback Justin Redfern, who not only led the team in passing but also was the team's top rusher last year.

The 6-foot-1 senior threw for 842 yards to go along with 738 on the ground. Redfern, who had to adjust his game playing with a broken right hand for a large part of the season, ran for 12 touchdowns and threw for six more.

With a healthy and experienced quarterback, Hayes hopes to have a more balanced offense - not having to depend on the run as much.

Junior Miles Martino, who led the team with 225 receiving yards and two touchdowns, should be Redfern's main target.

How successful the passing game becomes will also depend on the running game, which should be the main responsibility of seniors Mason McClanahan and Jason Willix.

They will get help from fellow senior J.D. Wimbish, who returns to the team after being forced to sit out all of last season following reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Hayes said the Cougar offensive line - led by center Jake Marchant and guard Kevin Ross - should be improved, having gotten stronger during the offseason.

On the defensive end, Cannon will have to fill the gap left by all-state defensive end Wesley Scott, the team's top tackler who graduated in the spring.

Will Keenan will direct the defense and the linebacker corps. The senior middle linebacker will have help from junior John-Morgan Wilson, who was second in tackles for the team with 41 last year, at safety.

Wimbish and Willix should also be a big boost on the corners.

Hayes said his team focused on strength and conditioning in the offseason, hoping to not be outpowered during the season.

"We're undersized, we're nowhere near as big as the teams we're going to play," he said.

As they embark on a tougher schedule this season, having to face teams like Harrells Christian and defending NCISAA Division II runners-up Westminster Catawba, Hayes knows the Cougars will have to work hard to upset some of their opponents.

That's why his Cougars have been competing in 7-on-7 games against larger schools like Cox Mill, Jay M. Robinson and Mount Pleasant, among others.

"We get great work because we're facing athletes who are usually bigger, faster, stronger than those we're going to see on Friday nights," said Hayes. "We hope that pays off."