SETH — The cupboard isn’t bare for the Sherman High School football team, but there will just be some new faces on the field in 2022.
Second-year skipper Kevin Buzzard looks to build on an inaugural season that saw him lead the Class A Tide to their fourth playoff berth in six seasons with the first three coming under retired coach Michael Showalter.
“We lost some kids to graduation that were steady contributors to our program and you have to find a way to replace that production,” he said. “We feel we have guys that are ready to step it up and take the reigns and move us forward.”
The most daunting task of those losses will be replacing star running back C.J. Winnell’s 95.4 yards per game and defensive back Dalton Rollo’s state-leading nine interceptions in 2021.
Thankfully, the position of quarterback is in good hands with junior T.J. Hager.
Perhaps the squad’s most dynamic athlete, Hager carries on a long Sherman tradition of athletic quarterbacks with names like Terry Spangler, Nick Gurski, Colby Treadway, Bailey Kirk and most recently J.T. Hensley under center.
Tide Nation expects their quarterbacks to make the big plays and Hager hasn’t disappointed since taking over for Hensley.
“Our offense (variation of the veer) centers around the quarterback and they have to be a leader and T.J. has proven to be a leader,” said Buzzard.
Hager threw for 11 scores a year ago and added five more with his feet while rushing for 551 yards good for a 5.1 per carry clip and four more scores.
“He’s added some healthy weight and he looks real good early on,” added Buzzard. “He’s definitely stronger.”
Hager was responsible for 1,466 all-purpose yards one year ago and the Tide will lean on him again.
Last season left a bitter taste in the mouth of 2022 returnees after an opening round playoff battle at Mount View that ended in a hard-fought 18-6 loss.
“They made two big plays on us with two minutes to go and that was it,” Buzzard said. “We had 13 seniors a year ago but we had young kids on the field, too, so getting them that experience can do nothing but help us. We have four seniors this year.”
Senior tackle Jared Butcher has shown athleticism and Buzzard said the staff may move him into a tight end role — providing a big target for Hager off the line of scrimmage.
“We haven’t figured out just yet what we are going to do with him but it’s a good problem to have,” he said.
Tim Groves returns to the offensive and defensive lines, along with first-year player Jace Evans to round out the squad’s seniors.
In early workouts, the squad had 32 players but Buzzard expects it to be closer to 30.
“We are sophomore-heavy this year so we will have some kids getting varsity experience for the first time,” he added.
Jaxon Johnson and Jackson Foster will anchor a young offensive line as sophomores. Landon Hughes and Mason Webb bolster the Tide up front. First-year player Adam Gillispie looks to be the front-runner for a left tackle spot.
Freshman quarterback Trey Lester will get some reps this season in spelling Hager under center, which would slide Hager over to running back in certain sets.
“T.J. will take 90 percent of the snaps but we’ll work him in there,” Buzzard added.
Joey Runion, a 6-1, 225-pound converted lineman, will be the Tide’s primary running back in 2022, breaking the recent tradition of smaller, quick backs.
“He runs well and is a bruiser,” he added. “We don’t have two or three with the speed of Hager like we’ve had in the past. Hager was our fastest guy a year ago and still is. It will be an adjustment for us even in play calling.”
Junior Andrew Simpson will return to his slot position and also see some time in the backfield.
The will continue their 4-2-5 defensive scheme. Landon Hughes returns in the middle of the defense with Runion anchoring a defensive end and/or outside linebacker spot.
Lester is projected to start as a freshman defensive back.
“He’s catching on really quick. He’s super smart and understands what we ask of him,” said Buzzard. “Simpson (defensive back) and Ryan Skeens will return to outside linebacker. Webb will be a defensive contributor on the line.
Buzzard said he wants to put his kids in the best position to be successful and part of the job of a coach is identifying strengths of his players.
“We are inexperienced in some spots but these kids have worked hard in the off-season and that means more than anything when you get the effort from them.”
Assistant coaches are Brian Guthrie, Tom Hensley, Willis Hensley, Dustin Trail and Leland Salmon.
Sherman kicks off their season on Friday at James Monroe.