When some football programs lose players the caliber of running back Austin Hines (1,036 yards, 18 touchdowns) and tight end Dionte Allen (34 catches), it’s back to the drawing board for the offense.
“With Allen and Hines gone, they’re hard to replace,” Jeffersonville High School coach Lonnie Oldham said. “Those are two premier athletes, and we’re going to miss them.”
But in this fourth year leading the Red Devils, Oldham has plenty of X’s and O’s to write on the chalkboard, plus a defense that at times tips the scales. In fact, his players appear to be bigger and quicker than last season, and that has Oldham thinking better.
But first the Devils will have to get rid of a few demons: Lack of focus. Weather phobias (rain was not Jeffersonville’s friend last fall). Failure to finish games (and the season) strong.
“The team has got to focus throughout the season,” said Oldham, citing a four-game skid that included losses to rivals New Albany, Providence and Floyd Central.
The rain-soaked homecoming loss to Floyd Central in September started the streak after a fine start for the Red Devils, and that defeat still carries a bit of a sting for the players.
With last season’s stumble on their minds, the Red Devils will try to improve, and Oldham thinks they can do it.
“Our team is going to be different this year,” the coach said.
The defense is big and fast.
The big are led by 6-foot-5, 370-pound tackle DeAdam Hall. (Oldham is pretty sure the senior weighs 370 but admits “we don’t have scales that go over 300.”)
The fast are behind the line, where senior linebacker Isaiah Mack (5-9, 185) and junior safety Brandon Coleman (6-0, 180) prowl. This will be a defense built on speed and pressure.
“Our overall team speed is going to be a factor, and our size up front on defense,” Oldham said.
The defense might have to carry the load early as Oldham tinkers with an offense that will be evolving as the season progresses.
In the backfield, he aims to replace Hines with a “running back by committee.” Mack will be the power runner the Red Devils need in short-yardage situations. Sophomore Jordan Barnett (5-8, 175), who also will play defensive back, will bring the speed that has become a staple in the Jeff backfield.
The quarterback position is a race, and the contenders are neck-and-neck right now. Whoever wins it can look for junior wide receiver Isaiah Blanton (5-7, 155) as a speedy target. Blanton also will make his presence known in the return game.
Junior Jamal Britt (6-3, 170) and sophomore Cameron Northern (6-2, 225) will split the duties at quarterback — for now — just as they did last season. Britt began 2013 as the starter, and Northern took over midway through the season.
“Right now we don’t have a clear-cut starter; both of them throw the ball really well,” said Oldham, pointing to their performances in games as the deciding factor. Or not — he didn’t rule out a two-quarterback system.
That points to the depth of the 2014 Red Devils.
“We’ve got a little more depth, we’re younger, but competition is really good in practice,” Oldham said. “That makes us a little deeper and a little hungrier.”
He can see the program developing in his fourth year.
“The system is in place,” he said. “You can tell with the kids coming in as freshmen and sophomores that the program is starting to mature, and it makes teaching and coaching easier. They know how we operate.”
And unlike last season, Oldham expects this team to take advantage of any early success it might have.
“If we get off to a good start, we’ll have a chance to do well the rest of the year,” he said.