An Eye on Suc­cess

De­spite big departures, Bull­dogs don’t plan on back­ing down from any­one

Times-Record - - FRONT PAGE - By DAVID INSLEY dins­ley@star­dem.com

RIDGELY — It’s easy to see some things never change with North Caro­line High’s foot­ball pro­gram, while other changes can’t be helped as each new sea­son nears.

For 18 sea­sons, head coach James McCormick has run the Wing-T of­fense. His four-man de­fen­sive front as been around al­most as long.

And though every coach has holes to fill, few are as big as McCormick’s.

RIDGELY — It’s easy to see some things never change with North Caro­line High’s foot­ball pro­gram, while other changes can’t be helped as each new sea­son nears.

For 18 sea­sons, head coach James McCormick has run the Wing-T of­fense. His four-man de­fen­sive front as been around al­most as long.

And though every coach has holes to fill, few are as big as McCormick’s.

On of­fense, tail­back David Bai­ley has left for Bos­ton Col­lege, while Ja’Mion Franklin is play­ing on the de­fen­sive line at Notre Dame. The two could meet as op­po­nents in Oc­to­ber, 2019, when the Ea­gles play the Fight­ing Ir­ish.

In ad­di­tion to holes on the of­fen­sive line, and in the de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive back­fields, McCormick has the added bur­den of wear­ing “a bull’s-eye on our backs,” after go­ing 10-0 in two of the past three reg­u­lar sea­sons.

Last year’s 10-0 reg­u­lar sea­son fu­eled state-ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions, but the Bull­dogs lost to Kent Is­land, 33-29, in the Class 2A East Re­gion semi­fi­nals on a last-minute touch­down pass after beat­ing the Bucs, 35-14, a fort­night prior. It was a mir­ror op­po­site of 2016, when North Caro­line lost to the Buc­ca­neers in Week 3, but avenged the loss with a 14-7 open­ing-round play­off vic­tory be­fore fall­ing to Elkton in the re­gional fi­nal.

The Bull­dogs were 12-0 in 2015, steam­rolling op­po­nents by an av­er­age score of 40-14. Win­ning their first-ever play­off game, then their first-ever re­gional ti­tle, the de­fend­ers of The Ridge — as the school is called by loy­al­ists — lost a 17-15 state semi­fi­nal heart­breaker to Walk­ersville.

McCormick lost about half his ros­ter to grad­u­a­tion last year, with many play­ing foot­ball at the next level. Jack Webb will slug it out on the line at Catholic Univer­sity; Zach Smith is at St. Fran­cis (Pa.); Tynez Warner is go­ing to McDaniel in West­min­ster, and Cam Brown is head­ing to Frost­burg Univer­sity.

While McCormick isn’t us­ing the word “re­build,” he won’t go so far as to say “reload,” ei­ther.

“We have some young kids,” McCormick said. “But we’ll be all right.”

An­other po­ten­tial D-I player is the face of this year’s team: Ken­dron Way­man. A two-year team­mate of Bai­ley and Franklin in foot­ball and bas­ket­ball, the tall, gan­gly ju­nior is a po­tent speed-rush­ing de­fen­sive end who’s al­ready re­ceived schol­ar­ship of­fers from the Univer­sity of Mary­land and Tem­ple.

“He’s got a cou­ple of of­fers, and he’s get­ting some looks,” McCormick said. “Some more are wait­ing to see a lit­tle bit of film from this sea­son — if he does ev­ery­thing this sea­son like we ex­pect him to, he’ll get some more in­ter­est.”

Sev­eral other big-name schools have Way­man on their radar, ac­cord­ing to a num­ber of lo­cal and on­line re­ports.

Join­ing Way­man on the de­fen­sive line will be ju­nior Carl­ton John­son. Se­nior Brendin “Bud­dha” Gestole will get in a three­p­oint stance out­side them, with “two, three other kids work­ing for the other (po­si­tions),” McCormick said.

Lineback­ers Tren­ton Hil­liard, Tucker Stevens, Mon­treyse Deshields, and Rhian Sil­s­ley an­chor the mid­dle of the de­fense. Fleet de­fen­sive backs J.B. Brown, Will Man­ship, Ryan Bauer, and Michael Co­hen are among those who’ll seal the cor­ners and chase down pass-catch­ers.

Brown, Deshields, and Man­ship will be among those re­turn­ing punts and kicks. On spe­cial teams, Man­ship re­turns to do the place-kick­ing for his ju­nior year. Casey Byrd, the younger brother of 2016 alumnus Cameron, who quar­ter­backed and kicked for the 2015 state semi­fi­nal team, will punt and re­place two-year start­ing quar­ter­back Cody Pep­per.

On of­fense, Man­ship, Bauer, and Deshields are “the three big ones,” McCormick said. The full­back job will be han­dled by com­mit­tee, with se­niors Joey Bild­stein and Savion Blake, and ju­nior Hil­lard get­ting the nod.

“Ob­vi­ously, we don’t have a bunch of su­per-studs, D-I kids like we had last year,” McCormick said. “But we have a lot of kids who can play. At full­back, we’re 1A, 1B, and 1C. We can go at it and bang away. We have three, four run­ning backs that can do the same.

“We ain’t got any­body like David (Bai­ley) this year,” McCormick added with a laugh, “but then I don’t think any­body else does, ei­ther. The three guys we’ve got are pretty good. They’ve got good speed, they’re shifty ... they’ll do well for us.”

Block­ing from left to right will be tackle Tris­tan Adams, guard Dy­lan Bunce, cen­ter Jody Ward Jr., guard Jared Burowski, and tackle Nick Belay. Stevens plays tight end, with Brown lin­ing up at wide­out.

North Caro­line is slated to open at home Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. against Wi­comico. The Bull­dogs have won the last five straight meet­ings by a com­bined to­tal of 169-36.

“We know a lit­tle about Wi­comico High,” said McCormick, who scouted the In­di­ans’ Aug. 20 scrim­mage against Del­mar, Del. “They’re go­ing to be big and fast. They’ve got the Do­minic Bai­ley kid who’s ca­pa­ble of be­ing a real threat wher­ever he is on the field.”

Where they wind up after 10 ap­pear­ances on that field — the play­offs for a pro­gram-record fourth straight year, McCormick hopes — isn’t some­thing he wants to pon­der yet. Games such as the Week 9 re­match with Kent Is­land in Stevensville, he says, “have been dis­cussed, but it’s more a mat­ter for us of look­ing at the sea­son as two halves. And where we end up after the first half could af­fect where we are after the sec­ond.”

The sec­ond game of the sea­son is at Park­side for a rare Satur­day mati­nee con­test on Sept. 8. Week 3 puts the Bull­dogs at home against Cam­bridge-South Dorch­ester, which last beat North Caro­line in 2010, though the teams’ didn’t meet from 2011-2014.

Week 4’s matchup at home against Queen Anne’s County is fol­lowed by a Sept. 28 trip to Stephen Decatur.

The sec­ond half of the sea­son be­gins Oct. 5 at home against Eas­ton. The Bull­dogs then go to Kent County, host James M. Bennett, be­fore clos­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son at Kent Is­land and county ri­val Colonel Richard­son in Su­per­in­ten­dent’s Cup XV.

Will the Bull­dogs run the ta­ble again, and post a 10-0 reg­u­lar sea­son for the third time in four au­tumns?

“I think we’re go­ing to have an op­por­tu­nity to com­pete to get back to the play­offs,” McCormick said. “It seems to me like a num­ber of teams who’ve got­ten a lot tougher. Hope­fully we can get into the play­offs and see what hap­pens.”

In all, McCormick sees the year not as a re­build­ing one, but more de­voted to re­in­forc­ing pre­vi­ous suc­cesses.

“I’m real ex­cited about our depth,” McCormick said. “We’re not the big­gest. We’re not the fastest. But we’re not go­ing to back down from any­body.”

Fol­low me us­ing the free Minds app. My han­dle is @StarDemocratS­ports.

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

North Caro­line de­fen­sive end Ken­dron Way­man, sec­ond from left, fig­ures to again be one of the Bayside Con­fer­ence’s more for­mi­da­ble de­fen­sive forces this year.

PHOTO BY WIL­LIAM HAUFE

North Caro­line head coach James McCormick looks to guide the Bull­dogs to a fourth straight post­sea­son berth.

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