High School football previews
RIDGELY — Having a pair of Division-I-college-committed players on a team can spoil a coach. But North Caroline High head football coach James McCormick is still keeping his feet on the ground coming into 2017.
“Oh, having a couple of guys like David [Bailey] and Ja’Mion [Franklin] is definitely a nice thing to have,” McCormick said. “But two guys won’t win you every game. They might win a game here or there, but we’ve still got 20 other positions to fill on the field.”
Bailey, the Bulldogs’ tailback, will be headed to Boston College next year, while Franklin, a defensive tackle, is bound for the University of Notre Dame. The former has been with the program since his promising freshman year in 2014, while the latter, recruited away by Baltimore-area parochial Gilman for his sophomore season, chose to return last year to be with his friends until graduation.
Their impact over the last two seasons has been felt by everyone they’ve faced on the gridiron. Bailey, a threat to score even when he’s on defense, has played almost every position at one point, while Franklin, who’s also seen time over the years as an offensive lineman, is a pancake specialist and run stopper with speed and size.
The Bulldogs, who open their season Sept. 1 at Wicomico High at 6:30 p.m., will need contributions from the rest of the team, though, McCormick said, if they want to “be there at the end of the season.”
“You’re not used to having kids like that,” McCormick said of Bailey and Franklin. “It’s nice. They do special things; you can’t coach that. [But] the rest of the guys on the team, they know it’s going to take all of us.”
Despite the apparent luxury of having a pair of superstars, one able to lead on each side of the ball, the Bulldog coach added, “our guys on the team, they know how good they are, but we also understand that if you have two kids like that, they’re targets. People are gonna say, ‘Hey, he’s D-1, let’s see how good he really is.’”
On the offensive side, quarterback Cody Pepper will run the tried-and-true wing-T offensive scheme the Bulldogs have kept throughout McCormick’s 17-season tenure as head coach.
Junior Casey Byrd will be backing up Pepper; his older brother, Cameron, led the team to its firstever state semifinal appearance two seasons ago.
Joining Bailey in the backfield will be senior fullback Tyler Bauer, junior Joey Bildstein, and seniors Tynez Warner and Zack Smith.
Cam Brown will be one of several wideouts playing the position “by committee,” according to McCormick. Junior Tucker Stevens will play tight end.
Center Jack Webb is flanked by fellow seniors, in guards Alex Grable and Jacob Brown. “We’re still figuring out for sure who our tackles’ll be,” McCormick said.
Offensively, McCormick added, the offensive line “is a work in progress. We’ve got some good kids; we’re trying to find a little depth. The more kids you have, the more they play together, the better they get.”
Bailey will handle the punting duties, with Will Manship looking to be the team’s place kicker and handling PATs.
The Bulldogs bring back their 4-4 defensive set, accompanied by a pair of corners and a lone safety in “center field,” as some call it.
Warner looks to take the lone starting safety spot, with Bildstein rotating in for time there as well; seniors Seth Taylor and Jermaine Carter, along with junior Will Manship, look to be the cornerbacks.
Franklin, along with transfer Brendin Gestole, who moved into the area recently after playing for Queen Anne’s County High, will be joined on the line by defensive ends Tristan Adams, a junior, and 6-foot4 sophomore Kendron Wayman.
Wayman, who also made his bones as a paint player for the basketball team last winter, starting as a freshman, will play tight end as well and has a tremendous upside according to his coach.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” McCormick said. “He’s got a 4.0 GPA, he’s got good feet, he’s really athletic. I think he’s possibly our next big prospect.”
Bauer, Deshay Reese, and Noah Jeffers, seniors all, will rotate as inside backers, with Owen Joseph at the weak side and Zach Smith on strong.
The Bulldogs’ schedule, McCormick says, “is the toughest in the Bayside. I really think it is.”
Starting at Wi-Hi, North Caroline returns home in Week 2 to take on another Salisbur y area high school, Parkside. North Caroline then visits Cambridge and Queen Anne’s, and wraps up a five-game September with a home tilt against Stephen Decatur.
The second half includes a trip to Easton, a Week 7 home game against Kent County, a Thursday night Week 8 game at James M. Bennett, and a huge home game on Oct. 27 against Kent Island.
The 14th annual Superintendent’s Cup game takes place in Week 10 when county rival Colonel Richardson comes to town.
Looking at the schedule, McCormick said, isn’t something he does a lot beyond the next team up, though he and his coaches have discussed it a bit.
“We kind of break it up into two halves,” McCormick said, “and look at what do we have to do in the first half to give ourselves a chance [at making the playoffs] in the second half.
“The first half we’ve got some tough games. Wi-Hi’s not a slouch; Parkside’s gonna be good. Cambridge is always a fight ... Queen Anne’s is gonna be Queen Anne’s. ... They’re going to be pretty good, and ... a slightly improved Decatur,” McCormick explained. “We’ve got to take care of some business in the first five weeks to put ourselves in a good position. But we’ll see. It’s a long season; we’ve got to stay healthy. We’ll figure it out as we go.”
North Caroline High’s football team will call on running back Tyler Bauer (left) and quarterback Cody Pepper (with ball) to help create offense during the 2017 season.