SPORTS >> Falcons take flight with new coach
Leader sports editor
Solid talent and a new head coach have given hope to the North Pulaski faithful as the Falcons prepare to start the 2009 football season.
The Falcons will host Dumas at Falcon Stadium on Friday in the first game under new head coach Rick Russell. Dumas won the last meeting in the 2006 season opener, 28-6.
Russell moved across town after serving as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator and took over when Falcons athletic director Tony Bohannon stepped down as football coach in the spring.
Bohannon remains on the varsity staff as offensive line coach and will coach the freshmen Falcons team.
“We can only gauge how practices are going and how the kids’ approach to preparation has been,” Russell said. “We’re happy with where we are. We think we could be a lot further along but we’ve made some progress.”
Russell’s first order of business was a more rigorous conditioning program. The Falcons were competitive in most of their 5A-Southeast Conference games last year until fatigue got the best of them toward the end of the third quarters.
North Pulaski got its first taste of life under Russell’s direction in a four-team benefit at Pulaski Robinson on Aug. 24. The Falcons had mixed results in scrimmages against Greenbrier and the host Senators, and the night ended on a scary note with a significant arm injury to peppy sophomore running back Derrick Hart.
The scrimmage also marked the varsity debut of sophomore quarterback Syheim Barron, who led the Falcons’ ninth-grade team through a solid season in 2008. Starting tight end Marshall Shipley also spent time under center.
Russell said Barron will start at quarterback Friday and Shipley will line up at tight end, but the two could rotate at quarterback or back each other up in the event of an injury.
“They both did some good things in our scrimmage and our maroon and gold game and I think we’ve got two good guys to run the ship,” Russell said.
Powerful junior Darius Cage returns at running back after an injury took him out of the last half of 2008. Billy Barron, a 270-pound fullback also took handoffs and will be the Falcons’ go-to guy in short-yardage situations this season.
The Bobcats come into Friday’s opener after going a respectable 7-5 last year. Dumas shared many of the Falcons’ struggles to find victories and address depth issues early in the decade, but the hiring of coach Mark Courtney in 2006 helped change the Bobcats’ fortunes and, in 2007, led to a 10-4 finish and an appearance in the 4A state quarterfinals.
The Dumas offense revolves around sizeable quarterback Dariun Griswold, 6-4, 225 pounds. Griswold will use that size to his advantage in running situations and proved it as a sophomore with 500 rushing yards to go with 2,100 yards passing.
Russell said Griswold is faster than his size makes him look and is a danger to throw even while trying to slip a tackle. The Falcons will have to try to pin Griswold’s arm as much as possible when bringing him down, Russell said.
“As big as he is he looks like he’s gliding but he’s pretty elusive,” Russell said. “We’re going to try to put some pressure on and we’ve worked on trying to tackle him the right way.”
In the speed department, the Bobcats have senior running back Jamarean Buchanan, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and led Dumas in rushing last year with 800 yards despite missing four games.
Deveon Horn is another senior running back who struggled with injuries last season after rushing for almost 650 yards for the Bobcats.
Senior Aaron Dennis will lead a solid group of receivers. Dennis is a player to watch who has drawn interest from a number of upper level NCAA schools, including the University of Arkansas.
The Bobcats also have strong receivers in seniors Pierce Lacy and Rashad Hampton.
“We’ll play a lot of kids,” Russell said. “We’re still trying to get the kids in the right positions and set the depth charts. That’s what non-conference is for. It’s a learning experience. Of course you still want to win.”