by Sam Chandler
Time gives, and time takes away. This past offseason, it took quite a bit from the Chelsea High School football team.
The Hornets graduated all 11 starters from an offense that in 2016 averaged more than 40 points per game and carried them to the fi rst round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Two departures particularly sting.
Quarterback Matthew Marquet and running back Zalon Reynolds formed one of the most versatile and explosive tandems in the area. The pair brought Chelsea’s playbook to life, accounting for more than 50 touchdowns and nearly 4,500 yards of offense.
“They were as good of players as I’ve ever been around,” said Hornets’ fi fth-year head coach Chris Elmore. “You’re not going to replace Matthew or Zalon. You’re just not.”
And Elmore isn’t trying to. He understands the magnitude of his team’s loss and the size of the shoes he needs to fill, but he wants this year’s rising crop of talent to forge its own identity. Elmore knows his Hornets probably won’t be able to score at will like last year. He just wants to see their will on display each day.
“Just go be you, and we’ll be fine,” Elmore tells his pupils.
They’ve taken the message to heart.
This summer, the weight room and practice field became the proving ground for a batch of players eager to showcase their ability on both sides of the ball. Through sweat and reps, Elmore said they demonstrated what he labels one of the program’s defi ning traits: resolve.
Its presence in recent years has translated into consecutive playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016.
Time will tell if a third trip rests in the Hornets’ future.
In Chelsea’s spread-option offense, the unit’s success largely depends upon the play of the quarterback and running back. There are multiple candidates to fi ll the vacuum left at each position.
Alec Little and Turner Griffi n competed this summer for the starting quarterback job, and Elmore said he wouldn’t rule out playing both if neither separates himself. Little, a senior, has spent much of the past year rehabbing an ACL he tore while relieving Marquet in a lopsided victory over Briarwood Christian last August.
Elmore said Griffin, a junior, faintly reminds him of Marquet. “He’s just one of those guys who makes plays,” Elmore said.
At running back, Elmore plans to adopt a by-committee approach. He expects Kendrick Simpson, Joseph Turnes and Vick Lindsey to take turns shouldering the load. Simpson earned playing time last season behind Reynolds, and Turnes, who also lines up at wide receiver, factors to be a pass-catching threat out of the backfi eld.
“We’re not going to have a guy as good as Zalon,” Elmore said, “but I think by committee we’re going to be as productive.”
Whether it’s Little or Griffi n under center, he will throw to a receiving corps led by senior Colton Carter. Carter is also returning from a torn ACL, and Elmore said he would have been a weapon in 2016 had he not suffered the injury. Behind Carter, Turnes and Christian Pruitt, a host of Hornets will jockey for field time.
“We’re not going to be young on offense, we’re just going to be inexperienced,” Elmore said.
Spencer Jordan, Jackson Dunn and Logan Brasher project as mainstays on the offensive line. Elmore expects Dunn to start at center despite his small stature. Dunn looks and runs like a wide receiver, but his coach said he possesses the mentality of a lineman.
Tight end Will Peacock will likely shore up the flanks in the trenches.
“I have a good feeling about this year,” said Turnes, “and I feel like we can make a deep run if we just keep being consistent, staying the course and listening to Coach Elmore.”
Warner Wright, a senior defensive end, thinks his unit will be the strength of the team this year. His coach agrees.
Unlike the wide scale turnover on the other side of the ball, Chelsea boasts five experienced players who will be expected to anchor the defense. Dylan Seabolt and Carter Burleson return in the secondary, while Hunter Offord and Will Hayes return at linebacker.
Offord led the team in tackles last season until he too went down with a torn ACL in late October. He’ll suit up this fall at middle linebacker, and Wright will help hold down the line.
“I think offensively it may take us a few games to get going,” Elmore said, “but I think defensively we could come out and be pretty good early because of all the depth and competition we’ve got going on.”
Summer position battles dotted the roster. Four players were challenging for a starting spot at nose guard, while another four were competing at linebacker. Apart from the fi ve returners, Elmore said the only other position he could assign with some certainty was a cornerback slot to Reid Burleson, Carter Burleson’s twin brother. The siblings will likely start at corner on opposite sides of the fi eld.
“We’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had,” Elmore said. “In the past, it’s been one of those situations where this guy was the starter and the next guy was so far back.”
The Hornets lost place-kicker Tyler Thomas to graduation, and his productivity will be diffi cult to replace. He went 8 for 10 on fi eld goals in 2016.
“That’ll be a big loss,” Elmore said. “When you’ve got one that’s pretty good, I think you take for granted what you’ve got sometimes.”
Tanner Middleton appears to be the next man up, though Lando Nichols and Colby Lambert could also contribute. One of the three will take over the punting duties performed last year by Marquet, the quarterback.
Head coach: Chris Elmore
Overall record: 25-17
Tenure: 5th season at Chelsea
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks: Chris Elmore
Wide Receivers: Gerald Neaves
Offensive Line/Special Teams: Nathan Fordham
Running Backs/Tight Ends: Jamie Scruggs
Defensive Backs/Special Teams: Brian Maner
Linebackers: Eric Gibbons
Defensive Line: Jason Hamlin
Linebackers: Darrius Taylor
Athletic Trainer: John Hardin