Lake Norman & Mooresville

Titans need to quickly adjust

Hopewell has been forced to play catch-up, having to adjust to new coach David Johnson's system since his hiring early last month.

The first-year head coach said he's had a warm reception from his players, which he said has shown on the practice field.

"We've pushed them to the limits and they've met all of our expectations. They've done everything I and the other coaches have asked," he said.

Although the defense has only seen slight changes, as the team returns last year's defensive coordinator Casimir Bundrick, the offense has been revamped.

After running off a variable offense mainly operating with the quarterback under center, the Titans have had to learn Johnson's spread system, which he describes as "the fast break of football."

"It been night and day," said Johnson. "We started from the basics to make sure we didn't go too fast. ... I think the grasp of it is coming."

Hopewell will be led by Denzel Heath, who starred as a running back and linebacker last season. Johnson has been impressed by the senior's vision, leadership and his hard-nosed attitude on the field.

"He's picked up on the offense well, understanding his aiming points and where he needs to be," said Johnson. "He's one of our hardest workers and sets the bar for our younger kids. As a coach, I couldn't ask for more."

After losing quarterback Cole Blythe from last year, Johnson said senior Chandler Chase and junior TyJuan Sifford are competing for the starting spot.

Whoever gets the quarterback job will have to run out of the shot gun and will have to show a quick understanding of the no-huddle offense, which Johnson explains aims to snap the ball every 13-15 seconds.

"The goal is to keep the defense on its heals," said Johnson.

Seniors Darius Smalls, Tyrone Curry and Chris Strickland - all basketball players - as well as junior Jermaine Sanders will lead the way at receiver, a position that Johnson said will be more involved in his offense.

"We're tall at that position," said Johnson. "I really like that."

The coach added that sophomore Dominique Heath, Denzel's younger brother, has also stepped up in the slot.

Seniors Juwan McKenzie, TyShaun Cochran and Corey Copeland will lead a strong offensive line. Twins Brandon and Jason Sparrow should also help the unit.

Defensively, Denzel Heath might see his time decrease as he becomes the main tailback after Dondre' Lewis-Freeman's departure.

Linebacker Rhasheen Williams as well as defensive backs Dylan Moses and Cam Underwood should provide a lot of help for Heath defensively.

Johnson said the only changes defensively have been personnel moves he's made as he learns his players' strengths.

Johnson said the Titans could surprise some teams, especially if his younger players are able to mesh well with the experienced returners. He said his goal is for his team to make the school's seventh straight playoff appearance this fall.

"Playoffs are the expectation," said Johnson. "We can't regress; we're not going to use me as a first-year coach or learning a new system as an excuse."