Until about a decade ago, high school football was dominated by tough, grinding running attacks and physical defenses bent on stopping those ground games.
These days, you’re likely to see a prep quarterback throw the ball 20 or more times a game, unheard of just a few years back.
Leave it to an old school coach like Loyola’s Alan Carter to eschew those fancy passing systems for his variation of the “Flexbone” offense, which will feature bruising senior fullback Ray Shepherd in 2014.
“It’s a combination of my personal preference for a more physical running attack and the personnel that we have on our team,” said Carter, who is in his second year back at the helm of the Flyers after a 16-year absence from the sidelines. “I prefer to run the football and control possession. Plus, we don’t have the numbers (roster size) that a lot of the other schools in our district have, so it benefits us to play this style of game.”
Carter’s Flyers slipped into the playoffs last season with Times All-City running back Eldrick English leading the way. Shepherd takes those reins this year on an offense that only returns two starters. The 5-foot-11, 240-pound Shepherd moves from defensive end, where he was an all-district performer last season.
“He’s got all the tools to be a workhorse in our offense,” Carter said. “He’s a different back than Eldrick. He’s going to be more of a punishing runner that will go through a defender where Eldrick was a little shiftier and would run around a guy.”
Carter will lean heavily on his big back to take some pressure off his junior quarterback, Bishop George. George takes over for Nick Fultz under center for Loyola.
“He’s got some skills, just not a lot of experience,” Carter said of his signal caller. “He’s got a nice arm and can run the ball well from the quarterback position, but obviously we’ll rely on Shepherd to make the chains move.”
Defensively, it’s a little different story for the Flyers. Seven starters return from last year, led by a pair of seniors – inside linebackers Rodney Rollins and Stephen Cox. Loyola will feature a three-man front, moving the lineman around to allow Rollins and Cox to flow freely to the ball.
“We look for Rodney to have a big year,” Carter said of his 6-foot-3, 215-pound defensive signal caller. “He’s had several (colleges) taking a look at him already. If he performs the way we think he can – the way we expect him to – he should be getting a lot of (Division I) looks.”
The challenge for Loyola this season will be to make this physical style of play work in a very deep District 1-4A. And to do so with a smaller squad that their district competitors.
“We’re basically a 3A team playing in 4A,” said Carter. “We won’t have the numbers those other schools have, so we need to stay healthy. If we can stay injury-free – keep kids from having to become two-way players – we’ll have a shot.
“With a little luck, we will be up to the task.”
Coach: Alan Carter
2013 record: 4-7 (lost in 1st round in Div. II)
Sept. 5 at Cedar Creek
Sept. 12 Green Oaks
Sept. 19 at Many
Sept. 26 at Northwood
Oct. 3 Huntington
Oct. 10 at Minden
Oct. 17 Benton
Oct. 23 at Fair Park
Oct. 31 North DeSoto
Nov. 7 Woodlawn