New Ardrey Kell High football coach Joe Evans, whose team ranks No. 9 in the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16, likes what he has seen in workouts so far.
The Knights reached the second round of the N.C. 4AA playoffs last season, and Evans returns 10 starters from that team. Two of them are major college recruits: defensive lineman Julian Okwara (Notre Dame) and offensive lineman Taleni Suhren (Wake Forest).
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Evans said. “The kids are trying to learn me and respond to the type coach I am. I’m an energetic guy and I’m going to run around and be high energy all the time. I’m not very stoic.”
Evans was head coach at Independence last season, leading the Patriots to a 12-1 record. Independence returned to the top of the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll for the first time in six seasons and was unbeaten in the regular season for the first time since 2008. Evans was 20-6 in two season with the Patriots.
In March, Evans left Independence and was replaced by former Providence High coach Justin Hardin.
At Ardrey Kell, Evans takes over for Adam Hastings, now head coach at private Providence Day School. Hastings was 35-25 in five seasons with the Knights, posting three of the best four records in school history, including a 9-4 mark last season.
Evans wants to build on that momentum.
“Everything is new,” he said. “You really don’t know until that first kickoff against Weddington (Aug. 21). But as hard as I’ve made them work and with as much effort as the kids put in, I like our position right now. We want to keep the program going.
“I’m not going to try to guess on wins, but I think we should have a pretty good season. I know we’re going to be competitive in every game.”
Evans said he has opened up competition at every position and said he’s been pleased with several younger players, such as running back Merrick Haston, wide receiver Jaylen Erwin and safety Nathan Pepper. Veterans such as quarterback Bryce Maginley, linebacker Adam Lutz, defensive lineman Christian Van Horn and two-way stars Kirk Augustus and Omari Wingard have also been consistent performers among the 120 players at practice.
“I’m pretty pleased with how hard they’ve worked in the spring and summer,” Evans said. “We’ve got pretty good numbers and quality numbers, and with the work ethic I’m instilling they’re responding pretty well.”
Evans said the biggest thing he’s trying to fix at his new school is attention to detail. He said the Knights hurt themselves too often last season.
“The thing I’ve been a stickler with them on is not making a bunch of mistakes,” Evans said. “They were really penalized last year. I said, ‘You guys are making decisions on the field that are hurting your team.’ We’ve got to clean that up, but I think we’ve got a chance to be really good. We’ve got to stay healthy.”