South Charlotte

Mature Mustangs ready to return to the field

Greg Taylor looks relaxed leaning back in his office chair after a Thursday morning football workout at Myers Park.

In his second year at the school, Taylor feels good about his Mustang team and it's easy to see why.

Myers Park returns more than 30 seniors - many starters at key positions - from a team that finished 5-6 (3-4 Southwestern 4A) and barely missed the state playoffs last year.

"On paper we look really good. Unfortunately, they don't give you any wins for that," said Taylor, who coached at Gaffney, Fort Mill and Rock Hill South Pointe before landing at Myers Park last year. "We have a lot of starters returning. We've got a lot of experience. We've got a senior-laden football team, many of whom played extensively as sophomores and juniors."

The Mustangs were inconsistent last season, opening the season with two wins, including a 39-6 win over Olympic, before losing six straight games. Myers Park then finished with three wins over South Mecklenburg, Independence and Rocky River.

The comeback win over the Sabres, which Taylor said was the "most fun I've ever had coaching a game," was a turning point for the Mustangs.

"We finished very well last year and that had to do with coaches finally getting people into the right spots and also had to do with the kids learning the system and the expectations and building confidence," said Taylor. "We do have a lot of players returning, and I'd really be disappointed if we couldn't improve on what we did last year."

A lack of quarterback controversy could make the Mustangs more consistent this year.

Last year, Blaine Anderson and Ross Jeffries competed for the position until Anderson was injured midway through the season. Jeffries led the team the rest of the year and should be the starter in August.

Anderson won't just be sitting on the bench, though. He'll likely play safety and might also see time at wide receiver and as a wildcat running back.

"He has made us better in the secondary already," said Taylor. "Our coaches feel like our safety play at this point is better than it was all last year."

Jeffries will have a veteran receiving corps that includes seniors Napoleon Belk (all-conference) and Damon McCullum.

The biggest improvement for the offense will be on the line. Last year, none of the offensive lineman had experience on varsity, but now the Mustangs return four starters from last year's team: seniors Lorne Klein and Therman Elkins and juniors Jaquan Austin and Jack Knight. Senior Chris Lurie, who started three games last year before getting injured, will also be back.

"We feel like we'll be much improved on our offensive line," said Taylor. "They really showed some improvement toward the end of the year so we look at that as a possible strength this year as opposed to a liability."

The offensive line won't get a chance to block for graduated running back Deyonta Wright (1,894 yards and 13 touchdowns in two years on varsity), who Taylor called one of the "best running backs in the area last year" and is now playing at North Carolina Central.

The position might be filled by committee, using seniors Shaq Harrington and Jermiah Rainey (who both also play cornerback). Senior linebacker Mychal Turner played running back some as a sophomore and might see time, and Taylor expects junior J.S. Hitchcock, who was a surprise on the junior varsity team last year, to see some playing time.

Running back isn't the biggest factor in Myers Park's spread offense. Taylor hopes to move quickly on the field and go mostly no huddle, calling and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. An experienced quarterback and receivers should make that easier.

The Mustangs' strength on defense will be the linebacking corps.

Garrett Gysel (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), Matt Blanton (6-foot, 190 pounds) and Mychal Turner (5-foot-11, 180-pounds) will be the heart of the defense for the Mustangs.

"It looks like all three of them may get an opportunity to play football beyond high school," said Taylor. "They all run well, they all play very physical. They're smart, they play together and they got better and better as last season went along."

Seniors Riley Ghamsari will join Anderson and Rainy in the secondary while senior returning starter Dominique Casey (5-foot-10, 214 pounds) and senior Zeron Hubbard (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) will bolster the defensive line. Alex Crockett, a junior who is hearing impaired and excelled on the wrestling team last year, will be a "force in the middle," said Taylor.

One loss that shouldn't be overlooked is kicker Miller Snyder, who will play at UNC Chapel Hill this year. He had 48 kickoffs with 39 touchbacks last season and made 27 of 29 extra points. He was also four for five on field goal attempts with a long of 39 and the game-winner against South Meck. While the loss isn't catastrophic for the Mustangs, it takes away an advantage the team had.

This year, Taylor wants his offense going fast, but he hopes his defense can slow the opposition down.

"I think Charlotte largely has a history of offensive teams and a whole lot of scoring, and the places I come from there were at least a couple teams that were shutdown defenses, so maybe we can change that a little bit and slow some people down," he said.