Like any other high school football coach, Phillip O. Berry Academy’s Andrew Howard knows he will lose players to graduation every year.
Because Berry is a magnet school, Howard also doesn’t get rattled when he loses a couple of additional players who transfer back to their home schools.
But for the 2014 season, Howard had to make adjustments to his roster he didn’t anticipate. In addition to the 11 seniors who graduated from last year’s team, 10 more players transferred from Berry, according to Howard.
That’s the biggest loss of personnel the team has faced since Howard became head coach in 2008.
Filling the holes in the depleted roster are six seniors playing high school football for the first time. Four are Cardinals baseball players, stepping up in the name of school spirit and to keep themselves conditioned for the upcoming baseball season.
Howard had expected big improvements over last year’s team, but a month into this season, the Cardinals are making adjustments and trying to get on track.
Berry finished 2-9 in 2013, but three of those losses were by 10 or fewer points, leaving the Cardinals optimistic about the upcoming season. This season, Berry won its season-opener against East Mecklenburg, 35-0, but lost to Mallard Creek 50-7 and Kannapolis Brown 42-21 in the weeks following.
“I’ve had a few players transfer before, but not as many as 10,” said Howard. “I can’t put my finger on what happened. Once those guys leave, they just kind of leave and I don’t hear from them.”
Howard further speculated that some of those players may have been attracted to returning to schools that recently installed artificial turf, such as Olympic and West Mecklenburg. Howard said he knows another player returned to Mallard Creek, which won the 4AA state championship last year.
Some key Cardinals players returned this year. The 2014 roster has 13 seniors, including quarterback Kiante Cotton, who missed most of his freshman and junior seasons because of injuries.
Cotton is a dangerous runner and passer and has receivers who have varying levels of speed and size that complement the passing game – among them senior Will Perkins, who already has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Sophomore receiver Michael Roberts is an example of a Berry athlete playing football after getting used to another sport. Last year, Roberts played most of the season on the junior-varsity basketball team and was a late-season call-up to the varsity.
But most of Berry’s first-year impact players are seniors whose previous athletic accomplishments are with the Cardinals baseball team. They include linebackers Kameron Kendle and Tavon Rivera, defensive end Stephon Coleman and defensive back Gabe Delgado.
Kendle, the school’s senior class president, last played football as a middle-schooler. He also had never played baseball until his sophomore year at Berry.
At the end of last school year, Kendle already had decided to give football a try when he found out that baseball coach Larry Kinard was also going to serve as an assistant football coach for the first time. That appealed to a few of Kendle’s teammates, as well.
“We’re playing key positions (on the football team),” said Kendle, a defensive starter. “We’re definitely helping. We’re making the team better as a whole being there.”
Kinard is not the only assistant coach new to Berry’s staff. Offensive coordinator Jason Seidel is in his first year after coming from Mount Pleasant, where he coached football and basketball.
“A lot of players left, I guess, because they wanted better opportunities,” said Kendle. “I think they really messed up, because our new coaches really do something for us.
“But I wish them good luck, wherever they are.”