If the Marist War Eagles thrive in the post-Myles Willis era this fall, a small note of thanks might be due those who adopted new helmet rules for the 2012 season. The rule, which required a player to leave the game for at least one play if his helmet came off during play, resulted in then-backup Chase Martenson getting some meaningful playing time while the War Eagles were rolling up a 12-2 record and an appearance in the Class AAAA state semifinals.
“Myles’ helmet was flying off early in the season and Chase went in there against Clarke Central and had a big bootleg pass for a big third-down conversion,” Marist coach Alan Chadwick said. “Against Lovett he did the same thing, went in and converted a huge third-down opportunity for us. He’s been under the pressure, plus he’s gone against our defense the last two years in practice. He’s worked really hard.”
So the veteran coach, owner of 311 career victories in 28 years, seems unworried about replacing the team’s most productive offensive player.
The Marist stats from 2012 reveal that the War Eagles lost their top two rushers, including quarterback Myles Willis, who accounted for nearly all of the passing yardage, as well as their top two tacklers in Jason Morris and Nick Carrier, as well as Taboada, whose 17 total tackles included 13 for lost yardage.
Given those things, it would be understandable Chadwick to sing the blues about his team’s prospects, but you don’t get to 311 career wins by panicking. Chadwick’s voice is the epitome of calm.
“I’m encouraged by what I see right now,” said Chadwick, whose team opened spring practice this week. “The kids have worked hard. To me it’s not as bleak as it usually is.”
That is not to say that there aren’t questions. No. 1 on the list is the defensive secondary, where the War Eagles will trot out all new faces when they open Aug. 30 against Clarke Central. Close behind that is how to replace Willis, Stanford-bound TE Greg Taboada, whom Chadwick says could be the best player ever to come through the Marist program, and HB Gray King, the second-leading rusher from a year ago.
But each of those points has a counterpoint, though. Chadwick has confidence in Martenson and HB The War Eagles return the bulk of their defensive front seven, including DT Kendall Baker, who has multiple offers from ACC and SEC schools, and Kenneth Brinson, and even with the loss of Taboada, Chadwick believes the strength up front could take some pressure off the defensive backs.
“I like the fact that we’re going to have more depth particularly on our line of scrimmage and linebackers,” he said. “We’ve just got to develop a few more football players so we’re not having to play Kendall Baker, Kenneth Brinson and Jack Trainor as much on offense. We’ve got to find some guards on offense.
Marist War Eagles
2012 record: 12-2, 5-0 Region 6-AAAA Division A, lost to Ridgeland in state semifinals
Starters returning: 6 offense; 5 defense
Key returning players: DE Kenneth Brinson, DT Kendall Baker, LB Michael Toner, LB Lott Gwin, FB Griffin King, RB Marcus Miller, OT Sean McVay, OT Matt Hoey
Key players lost: QB Myles Willis, RB Gray King, TE/DE Greg Taboada
Spring practice dates: Now through May 17
Schedule: Aug. 30 Clarke Central; Sept. 6 at Thomas County Central; Sept. 13 Lovett; Sept. 20 at Therrell; Oct. 4 Columbia; Oct. 11 at Lithonia; Oct. 18 Redan; Oct. 25 at Stone Mountain; Nov. 1 Chamblee; Nov. 8 region play-in game.
Outlook: The War Eagles haven’t missed the playoffs since 1982 and only twice since then have they won fewer than nine games. So it’s hard to imagine them missing the postseason in 2013. Still, they’ll have to overcome major losses in the secondary and offensive skilled positions to stay among the elite in Class AAAA.