It’s funny to consider now after the fact, but the Neville Tigers had plenty of questions entering the 2014 season.
Not only was Neville searching for ‘replacements’ — if that’s even possible — for linebacker Ashari Goins and safety Scott Rider, the heart and soul of the defense for the past two years, Alabama signee Laurence ‘Hootie’ Jones and dependable senior Marcus Brown also vacated both cornerback spots after graduating.
Offensively, the Tigers had a new quarterback and receivers to break in for the departed Andre Fuller II, D’Vonte McFarland and Kylon Highshaw on a unit that averaged 37 points a game the previous year—not to mention three new starters on the offensive line.
But Mickey McCarty’s had to do this a time or two in his 13-year head coaching tenure at Neville. Not only did the Tigers (8-1) find the answers, statistically they may be better than a season ago, averaging 41 points per game offensively and allowing just 10 on defense.
‘First of all defensively that starts with our personnel,” McCarty said. “Coming in we knew the front was going to be good but the questions marks were on the back end and we’ve had some guys step up for us.”
The front four of Donald Louis and Courtney Wallace at tackle along with Donald Louis and Nick Stroud at end have made things easier for coordinator Benjy Lewis to break in linebackers Alex Prince and Leslie Thompson alongside returning starter Spencer Brooks.
The defense’s 11 takeaways pale in comparison to the 26 turnovers Neville forced at this time last year, but sophomores JaCorion Andrews and Corey Straughter have eliminated big plays from opposing offenses since stepping in at corner alongside veteran safeties T.J. Lemoine and Anterrius ‘Petey’ Butler.
Any offensive concerns the Tiger faithful didn’t last long after senior J.T. Jackson emerged as the next in a long line of successful Neville quarterbacks. Jackson’s thrown at least one touchdown pass in each game this season with newcomers Chris Fuller and Quintin Guice emerging alongside Mr. Reliable Kavontae Turpin at wide receiver.