Nothing is quite as it seems this season with the A.L. Brown football program.
The Wonders have a standout quarterback and four powerful running backs, but the offense has some question marks.
The defense took a hit from graduation, but some of the “new” players aren’t really all that new.
And a standout kicker is gone, but his little brother has arrived.
“Yeah, it’s not all how it might appear at first glance,” Wonders eighth-year coach Mike Newsome said.
Let’s start with the defense. Most of the defensive backs and several linemen from the 2017 team have graduated.
“You look at the names of our starters, and you might think they’re new,” Newsome said. “But several of them probably would’ve started for us last year if not for injuries.”
The Wonders lost four potential sophomore or junior defensive starters last August before the first scrimmage.
“All kinds of non-contact, season-ending injuries,” Newsome said.
One of those is junior cornerback Jaren Lipscomb, who is back from a knee injury. Newsome said Lipscomb could be very good. Ditto for another 2017 injury victim, senior cornerback Jnaz Jordan.
Anchoring the defense is senior linebacker Justin Holsclaw, who put up some video-game numbers last year — 128 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, eight sacks. “He led our team in nearly every defensive category,” Newsome said.
The offense would appear to be powerful, and Newsome said “it was ready to go on the first day of practice.”
Senior quarterback Jordan Medley passed for 2,238 yards last season, with an 18-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also rushed for 664 yards.
And the Wonders have four running backs returning who each had 500 or more yards last season. Newsome said that when 210-pounders Jaron Cooper and Terry Anderson are in the backfield together, the coaching staff calls them the “Meat Wagon.”
“We’ve got some powerful running backs,” he said. “And having a good running game really sets up the passing game.”
The question: Do the Wonders have players to catch Medley’s passes? Newsome said he thinks so, but he isn’t sure.
“We’ve got some big, athletic receivers, but they’re still catching up with Jordan (Medley) in development,” he said. “We’re waiting to see that happen.”
The loss of kicker Brian Gutierrez, who handled punting and placekicking efficiently for three seasons, will hurt, Newsome said.
“But we’ve got his little brother coming up, and I think he has a really strong leg,” Newsome said of sophomore Alexis Gutierrez.
All of this is framed by A.L. Brown football tradition.
“It’s a lot like that TV show, ‘Friday Night Lights,’” says Newsome, who left 4A powerhouse Butler in 2011, saying at the time that he was eager to experience the passion that surrounds the football program in Kannapolis.
“Football is important here,” he said. “In the big cities, there’s a fast-food restaurant on every corner, and the kids get jobs there. Here, we don’t have that. The kids want to play football.
“I’m still having a lot of fun.”
Editor’s Note: The Observer is previewing all 16 teams in its preseason Sweet 16 poll. The order will be revealed before the season kicks off Aug. 15.
2017: 10-3 (lost 41-21 to South Iredell in second round of 3AA playoffs)
Conference: South Piedmont 3A.
Top players: QB Jordan Medley (Sr., 6-3, 200); RB-DE Terry Anderson (Sr., 6-0, 210); RB Jaron Cooper (Sr., 6-0, 210); RB Nick Lyerly (Sr., 5-9, 170); WR-DB Antonio Knight (Sr., 6-2, 180); LB Justin Holsclaw (Sr., 6-1, 200); CB Jaren Lipscomb (Jr., 5-10, 160).
Outlook: The Wonders will have a power ground game, but they’ll need the receivers to develop as good targets for Jordan Medley. The defense could be strong, despite the graduation of several standouts, with Justin Holsclaw serving as a one-man wrecking machine. In the playoffs, A.L. Brown will be among several 3A powerhouses capable of winning it all.