Experience is always tossed around as either a strength or a weakness in the preseason, and as Brian Strickland enters his second season as coach at J.L. Mann, he’s glad he has it.
First of all, for himself.
“Everything’s a lot more comfortable, for sure,” Strickland said. “Last year, I hate to say this, it took me all summer to know all the kids. Being with them in the weight room in the wintertime, being with them in the weight room all summer, I know a great deal about a lot of our kids now, which I think is huge.
“Last year, at times, I kind of felt like I was coaching someone else’s team, especially early in the season. Now that aspect of it is a lot better.”
Then there’s his quarterback, who happens to also be his son, Ryne, now a senior with a year as the starter under his belt.
“He’s done a good job,” Brian Strickland said. “His biggest thing is he’s got to be consistent. He’s like any other high school kid. He’ll have some success and think he’s arrived, and then something will happen and knock him down a couple pegs. Handling success — that’s the key.”
The Patriots had some success last season, finishing with a 6-6 record that included the team’s first victory against rival Greenville in 13 years.
Mann will have what Brian Strickland considers a strong receiving corps with wide receivers Jake Riggs, Jonathan Clay-Hanson, Jaylen Robinson and Buck Brown (also the backup quarterback) and tight end Zach Riggs.
“We have some pretty good weapons at wide receiver, so we need to use them,” Brian Strickland said. “We’re still going to run the ball a good bit, though, because I think you have to control the ball and limit the other team from having the ball a lot so they can’t make a bunch of big plays.”
To that end, the Patriots have running back Jaterrance Williams, whom Strickland said has “a chance to be really dynamic.”
“He’s probably worked as hard in the offseason as any kid I’ve ever been around,” Strickland said.
The offensive line has all new starters, but Strickland said three of them — center Andre Harris, guard Jake Lauritzen and tackle Cory Lundy — bench press more than 300 pounds and squat more than 450.
The other guard, Adrien Williams, played some last season, and Strickland said the other tackle, Connor Robbins, “probably had our best offseason.”
“I coached offensive line for 19 years before I got this job, and I’ve never had a huge offensive line anywhere I’ve been, and this group sort of follows that mold,” Strickland said. “They’re all in that 220-, 230-pound mold. They all can move, and they’re strong. That’s kind of what I like.”
Defensively, the Patriots have only one returning starter, but Strickland said he has good reason to be confident.
“If I had to trust a brand-new defense to somebody, I can’t think of anybody better than Coach (Joe) Watson, who’s been coaching defense in this state for over 30 years,” Strickland said of the Patriots’ coordinator.
The returning starter is linebacker Sam Jackson, who will be joined on that unit by Jake Brice and Christian Irby.
The ends are Malik Ware and Clay Price, and Strickland said there’s a “cast of thousands looking to play those inside spots.”
Cornerbacks Austin Real and Shaun Blackmon did a pretty good job in 7-on-7 competitions, Strickland said, and Devin Mathis likely will be at one of the safeties. Devante Edwards and Braylen Lewis also will see time in the secondary.
The Patriots should have one of the best specialists around in Will Vanvick.
“He was the MVP of the Greenville game with his punting,” Strickland said, “and he puts about 70 to 80 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone. We want to put him into more field goal situations.
“Any time we’re inside the 20, I feel like we should come away with points.”