White Knoll made an unlikely run to the Class 4A state semifinals last year before being knocked off by region rival Dutch Fork. It capped the best season in school history, but graduation and the departure of coach Gordon Walters has given the Timberwolves a different outlook in 2013.
Dean Howell is the new coach after having a successful three-year run with A.C. Flora, the season opening opponent Friday night. Howell, who guided the Falcons to 37 wins in three years, has replaced the Timberwolves’ run-oriented Wing Bone with a more traditional I-formation with a mixture of the spread.
The learning curve has been a big one but Howell believes the adjustment is going well.
“It’s a big change,” Howell said. “It’s been a lot different because some of the kids didn’t have to memorize a lot of stuff. And, to be honest, White Knoll only ran a handful of plays last year but was very successful doing it. We run our offense a lot different, but they are making the adjustments needed.”
Without a proven quarterback, Howell has turned to Craig Blakey to run the offense. The senior played tight end and linebacker last year, so he’s still making the transition to handling the ball on every play.
“He’s a good athlete — a big, strong kid that throws as good as ball as anybody, but his mechanics are raw,” Howell said. “We feel like he can manage the game for us right now. We’ll utilize him in the running game as well.”
Opponents can expect to see Quinn Jones get plenty of opportunities in the running game. The senior rushed for a little more than 1,000 yards last year and has shown plenty of leadership in the offseason. Transfer E’Mond Brown has filled the vacant spot at fullback.
“We’re excited about the leadership Quinn’s shown,” Howell said. “He’s come a long way as a young man and it’s showing itself out on the football field. We’re excited about what he brings to our offense.”
The offensive line will be led by highly touted Christian Taylor at weakside tackle. He’s 6-foot-5, 330 pounds and will be vital to the success of the White Knoll offense. Todd Truesdale, a transfer from the Charleston area, has been a pleasant surprise at center. Danny McLane is at the guard spot next to Taylor with Trey Duncan and Brandon Shealy filling the other side.
“We call everything on the line of scrimmage, and we call it a bunch of different ways, so they’ve had to make a big adjustment,” Howell said.
Since throwing wasn’t a big option last season, there isn’t a lot of experience at wide receiver. Sophomore Calev Grubbs has been the most consistent and has a chance to be a playmaker. But there’s not a lot of depth because the Timberwolves used a mostly ground attack under Walters.
“Wide receiver will be a work in progress,” Howell said. “We’re just trying to teach them how to run routes and catch the football right now. We can’t be too complicated with what we’re trying to do on offense right now because they’ve never had to do it before. Hopefully, we can get some of the more athletic kids in the school to come out and play.”
The defense returns two starters who saw significant action last year. Howell has switched from a four-man front to a three-man front. Jordan LeMay has made the move from a lineman to outside linebacker and has the most experience. Tackles Tyler Johnson and Jermaine Abney have provided bulk and played well in the preseason.
Senior Demarquis Bellamy is playing football for the first-time on the varsity level and he’s been a pleasant surprise in the secondary. Chandler Strama will play safety, with sophomore Jimmy Lincoln and Kendrick Curry battling for starting spots, too.
“We only have one person playing the same position they did last year. It’s a total different philosophy,” Howell said. “We have to get good quick on that side of the ball.