CHAPIN — A season ago, Chapin coach Justin Gentry watched as his inexperienced squad took its share of lumps in the first half of the season.
The Eagles lost four of their first five games before rallying to win four of their final five to finish with a break-even record during the regular season.
Most of those players are back for 2013 and Gentry hopes the growth shown last year will continue from the beginning of the season.
“We started a lot of sophomores last year and turned it on late and made a good run,” said Gentry, who is entering his fourth season, “We finally have some expectations and depth.”
Chapin will have to overcome a couple of serious injuries. Running backs Chandler Engel (knee) and Rakeem Rikard (ankle) are out.
Engel was an All-region linebacker last season and probably would have been the starter at tailback. There is a possibility he could return late in the year. Rikard is out for the season.
“The sign of a quality program is we have to have guys that can step up when these type of things happen,” Gentry said. “We’re finally at the point of we have guys that can step right in.
“They might not be as good, but they understand their role and understand how we’re going to do things. We have to coach the guys that are out there and get them ready to go. I hate we lost those guys but they’re juniors and will be back.”
The running back rotation will be by committee. Adam Cook, Steffann Washington and Ben Fischer will all have opportunities.
The good news for the Eagles is three-year starter Matt Charpia returns at quarterback. Charpia has a better feeling for the game, Gentry said. Matt’s older brother, Barrett, has graduated and that has given Matt a feeling that this is his team.
The receiving corps will be a strength with Alex Young, Anthony Gonzales, Brandon Livingston and Carter White expected to see action.
Wiggins Bates will be a three-year starter at center and Drew Minges will be back at left tackle. Kolt Doss has moved from tight end to the offensive line
Gentry had to put several young players on defense last year and they gained valuable experience. The defensive line returns, with Dylan Edenfield and Stephen Haralambis inside, and Matt George and Matt Bickley at ends. The linebackers will be led by Matteo Macaluso, Alex Shealy and Daniel Piester at spur. Chad Beaver will also be in the rotation.
White will return in the secondary after being a two-year starter. Nate Blankenship is the top returning tackler with over 100 stops. Sam Holaday and Christian Santiago, the fastest player on the team according to Gentry, will be the corners.
Gentry also hopes to get Tyler Weimer back from a pulled hamstring he suffered playing AAU basketball this summer.
“There’s definitely been some growing pains, but these kids work as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Gentry said. “We got a taste of success last year and hopefully that can carry over some to this year.
“We’ve had some injuries but we have guys ready to step in and fill those holes. Three or four years ago, those types of injuries would have been crippling for us.”