Arlington Colts looking to make school history in 2013

Posted Monday, Aug. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Perhaps surprisingly, only once in the history of Arlington High School has the Colts football team made the playoffs in six straight years. The 2013 team can make that twice in school history, and on paper it looks geared to do so.

Arlington returns a handful of starters on both offense and defense and is especially experienced in key positions.

“We’re excited about our skill positions on both sides of the football,” coach Scott Peach said.

Defensively, the Colts have four players in the secondary returning: Cassius Grady, Corey Bernard, Jacob Nwangwa and Cedric Jones.

“All of those kids were really good performers for us last year,” Peach said.

They defense also returns end Darron Harris, whom Peach calls “one of the top defensive ends in the area right now.”

Offensively, Arlington brings back starting receivers Cade Olson and Isaiah Baker, along with junior running back Raymond Sheard, who had 672 yards and nine rushing touchdowns last season.

Senior Michael Gray, who played receiver last season, moves back to his more natural position of quarterback.

Gray “has been the leader of this senior class ever since they were in grade school,” Peach said. “He’s very smart. He’s a kid that you don’t have to tell twice how to do something. That’s key for the offensive system that we run because our quarterback has to be a smart kid.

“The other thing is that he’s a prolific runner and he’s got a big arm. He’s become a really good passer. The biggest deal for us is protecting him. I think he’s going to have a really special year.”

Back to quarterback

Gray is excited about the prospect of moving back under center, where he played until his sophomore season, when was moved up to the varsity to play receiver.

“Playing receiver was fun, but I’ve always played quarterback and feel more comfortable back there,” he said. “It took some work over the summer just to get back into the groove of throwing and not catching, but it didn’t take long to get back into that.”

Gray is also excited about the experienced weapons like Sheard, Baker and Olson that he’ll have surrounding him.

“The skill positions are some of the best in the district, I think,” Gray said. “Especially at running back. Raymond is a freak athlete — that’s about all I can say about him. And our receivers are great, too.”

On paper, though, protecting Gray could be a concern for the Colts. Arlington graduated five senior offensive lineman from last season, so the entire line must be rebuilt. But both Peach and Gray feel like they have the right pieces to the puzzle.

Left tackle Ikenna Okoye was a fill-in at multiple positions last season, and Peach feels like he has the skill to be a “really special” player. Peach also praised the work of right tackle Dylan Whiteacre, whom he called a bright spot in the first week of fall camp.

“It’ll take some work, but we have a really good offensive line coach and I’m not worried about it all,” Gray said. “I think we’ll be ready to go by the first game, definitely. No worries there.”

Luke’s legacy

One thing giving the Colts reason to feel confident about their offensive line play stems from the success of one of its former players, Luke Joeckel, who was the second overall draft pick to the NFL in April. Though he’s no longer suiting up in the green and white, his legacy has impact.

“Luke Joeckel changed the entire culture of our football team five years ago,” Peach said. “He played at such a high level that over the past five years we’ve had seven Division I offensive lineman go into the college ranks.

“The kids that played next to Luke had a chance to see what that looked like,” Peach added. “So for three years all the guys that played with him saw that. Then after that, those kids that were beneath Luke, they either watched him on film or watched the guys he played alongside. So he really made a huge impact on our offensive linemen and how they play because they can look at him and say, ‘This is how it looks and this is what I have to do.’”

It’s not just the offensive line that will be full of fresh faces. The defensive front seven will be inexperienced, having graduated six from the 2012 squad.

“Without question, our front seven defensively and our offensive line are going to have to grow up fast,” Peach said.

But the younger players making the leap to Friday night football have a history of success to draw upon.

“We went 8-2 on our JV last year, and a lot of those sophomores have stepped into starting positions for us on our varsity and they’re going to be really good players,” Peach said.

He pointed out McKinley Rogers as an example. After moving from linebacker to defensive end, Rogers was a standout in the first week of practice.

“I’ve been very impressed with him,” Peach said. “He’s lightning-quick off the ball and has played very physical. He’s a kid that we hoped would come on and be a player for us and he has after a position change.”

With skill in place and the promise of new players upfront, Arlington feels like it could make another special playoff run — and perhaps a run at the District 3-5A championship.

“We’ve created a culture for ourselves and a tradition that we expect to win,” Peach said. “Step No. 1 is to get off to a good start.”

That concept reverberates through the senior leadership of this team, like safety Jacob Nwangwa, a three-year varsity player for the Colts.

“We go by the motto ‘start fast, finish strong,’” he said. “We’re pretty much doubted. Proving everyone wrong is what’s shooting fire into us, because we’re classified as an underdog and we want to show people up.”

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