Lexington coach Josh Stepp is undertaking a rebuilding job at a time when newly minted River Bluff is taking a large part of the school’s student body.
The Wildcats stumbled to a 3-8 record in 2012 and missed the playoffs. Stepp comes over after a successful run at Dreher and will try to regain the glory that two seasons ago saw Lexington complete an undefeated regular season.
If that good fortune is going to return, it might rest on the right arm of senior quarterback Will Hunter. He is entering his fourth year as a starter, and Stepp hopes the production from his first two seasons return.
Hunter threw for 3,394 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2011 — when he had Mr. Football in South Carolina, Shaq Roland, on the receiving end of many of those throws. Last year, Hunter had 1,931 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those numbers will have to improve if Lexington hopes to find its way back into the Class 4A playoffs.
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“Will is what makes us go,” Stepp said. “He’s got football instincts and knowledge that kids today don’t usually have. He’s picked up our offense quicker than anyone I’ve ever been around. He can call just about as good as I can. He’s very heady and understands the concepts of why we want to do things.”
The receivers should be much improved from a season ago. Keelo Norris, Brentley Allen, Ryan Brown, Jayson Hopper and Jordan Carr provide a ton of depth that gained confidence during several 7-on-7 summer camps.
“We’ve got a good group of skill players,” Stepp said. “We have about five or six guys that can go and get it. The summer was great. Any time our kids can get some confidence, that’s huge for us. We need to continue to build on that, and hopefully that will carry over into the fall.”
Stepp is expecting to have a three-man rotation in the backfield. Grayson Chumley was the leading rusher last year, and he’s expected to again be in the mix — but he’s also expected to start at linebacker. Marvin Jackson missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he’s back healthy. Slade Carroll is expected to be featured.
“We have three different guys with three different styles at running back,” Stepp said. “We have an outside guy (Jackson) that can stretch it, we have a downhill pounder (Chumley) that will be able to get us some short-yardage. Then we have a sophomore (Carroll) that reads his cuts and is sort of a scat back.”
The offensive line is unsettled, but Stepp feels they’ve made progress in the preseason. Austin Leaphart is back and will be counted on to be a leader. Wyatt Keisler, Will Ronan and Ted Bailey figure to be in the mix.
“They’ve done a great job,” Stepp said. “They show up every day with a great attitude and give great effort. I can see we’re making progress. We’ve thrown a lot at them, and they’ve taken everything in stride. They really know the playbook.”
Defensively, the Wildcats struggled a season ago. They allowed 331 points (30.1 ppg) and need to find a way to get off the field this season. Lexington has quality experience up front with Riley Moon and Thomas Reese, but linebacker and the secondary is unsettled.
Chumley will man one of the linebacker spots, and Norris is expected to provide leadership in the secondary. But with a little over two weeks remaining before the start of the regular season, Stepp said several key positions are up for grabs.
But he feels good about the direction things are moving.
“The first thing is getting the kids to buy into the system and believing they can play defense,” Stepp said. “We’ve had to change the mentality a bit, and they believe in what they’re doing. They get after us in practice. They might not be the most athletic, but there’s not a group that works harder, and they fly around to the football.”