A.C. Flora scaled unprecedented heights under coach Dean Howell.
In four seasons with Howell at the helm, the Falcons posted a 37-12 mark — the best span of success in school history. The run featured three consecutive double-digit win seasons and an explosive attack that averaged 40.9 points per game.
A year ago, Flora tallied an eye-opening 595 points, averaging 45.8 points per game.
A new era dawns in 2013. Howell has left to take the job at White Knoll, and graduation exacted a heavy toll.
“I knew the situation coming in,” said new coach Reggie Shaw, who spent the past six seasons leading the way at Ben Lippen.
“The transition’s been easier than most because the foundation was already in place. The coaching staff did it the right way, and there hasn’t been a lot of turnover. The kids knew how to work, and they knew how to win. But there have been some bumps along the way because we have some many guys who are getting their first chance to contribute at a higher level.”
In fact, the Falcons have more questions than answers.
“We’re still trying to figure out identities and roles,” Shaw said. “Plus, we’ve had a few scrimmages cancelled because of the weather, and we’re going to be a little raw going into the season opener. When we did compete, we were up and down, which is understandable because of the youth and inexperience.”
On offense, Flora is breaking in a new quarterback, new wide receivers and a virtually all-new offensive line.
The good news is in the backfield with the return of seniors Aven Pollard and JuWan Simon. Pollard ran for 710 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season a year ago, while Simon posted 473 yards and eight TDs.
The Falcons will operate out of the I-formation again. Pollard and Simon are proven producers, but the key will be up front where senior center Stone Whitener (6-0, 270) and junior tight end Lowndes Pope are the only veteran hands.
Finding a viable replacement for departed quarterback Jake Lewis is another key to success. Senior Chris Asbill, Lewis’ backup last season, is in the running, as is sophomore Brendon Greene.
The two most promising newcomers at receiver are junior Denzell Johnson (6-3, 187) and senior Mills Carlton. Johnson ran a 4.46 in the 40 at the South Carolina camp in the summer, and is now on the recruiting radar.
The defense is in much the shame shape.
Junior safety Rion Davis is back after an outstanding sophomore campaign, and Shaw said he could see time on offense this season. Davis, however, is hampered by an ankle injury suffered during the summer AAU basketball season.
The other returning regulars include cornerback Tyler Gray and defensive tackles Tyrell Goodwin (5-11, 280) and Josh Blackmon (6-0, 245).
Ironically, the Falcons open up against White Knoll and former coach Howell.