By Mike Powell
CHERRYVILLE—The 2019 edition of the Cherryville football Ironmen will be hard-pressed to duplicate or better their success last season.
After all, Cherryville’s seven wins in 2018 was the most by the Ironmen in 41 years, going all the way back to 1977, when a team coached by Tom Wright went 7-3.
The task becomes even more daunting when one considers the Ironmen were hard hit by graduation. Only three starters return on each side of the football.
On the other hand, the three seniors back on offense are key players – quarterback Dylan Harden, school single season rushing leader Jayden Blanton, and guard Logan Ford.
On defense, Cherryville will rely on the leadership of senior linebacker Andrew Beam, a three-year starter; linebacker/cornerback Jerran Croft, and strong safety Christian Hahn, a junior.
The tendency is to suggest that as Blanton goes, so goes Cherryville. The big running back broke the school single season rushing record last year with more than 1,400 yards and could eclipse the career mark in 2019 with a strong season.
But while coach Tim Pruitt admits that Blanton will carry the ball 20-25 times per game, Blanton does not define the Ironmen on offense.
“We’re not just going to line up and run at you,” Pruitt said. “We think our linemen can run and pull, and our quarterback (Harden) can throw from the pocket and sprint out on occasion. We need to mix it up because we know people will key on Jayden (Blanton).
Harden is viewed as a capable runner and accurate short-game passer. The problem, however, may be the lack of a deep threat in the receiving corps.
“While we have people on offense who move well, from quarterback through the line, we lack a down-the-field receiver at the moment,” Pruitt said. “But we have some guys who can run good routes. And we think our guys upfront can protect the quarterback. Dylan (Harden) just needs to find a few targets out there on a consistent basis.”
The rebuilt offensive line will feature Ford at guard and seniors Kyle Wallace and Jackson Bowers at the tackle slots. The tackles are not exactly proven commodities; Wallace has not played since his freshman year and Bowers is a transfer from Forestview.
However, Pruitt said both players have huge upsides that may counter their lack of experience.
Other notable players on offense are receiver Sammy Clark, returning place-kicker Dawson Moore, and tight end/wideout Austin Thompson, who has the best hands on the team, according to Pruitt.
Among the junior class, players who expect to make contributions on offense include center Dawson Long and fullback Gage Price.
On defense, Pruitt said the Ironmen are switching to an odd-man look, a 3-4 that is designed to highlight the defense’s strength at linebacker.
Among the sophomores, Cooper Sloan, a transfer from Illinois, is a player capable of making an impact, Pruitt said. Sloan seldom missed a summer workout and looked good at free safety in the seven-on-seven sessions.
While Sammy Clark will go both ways and play one of the cornerback positions, the other corner slot is unsettled, meaning someone will have to step up and win the position.
Overall, question marks are depth, a perennial problem; the kicking game in terms of returners and the punting duties; and a stretch-the-field receiver.
Strengths include decent running ability throughout the offense, a veteran quarterback, experienced linebackers, and one of the best rushers (Blanton) in the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference.
This year’s team slogan – Pruitt picks one every year – is “work to win,” and the Ironmen’s ability to do that and improve over the course of the season hold the key to success.
“I’m pleased with how we have reported in good shape, that we practice hard, and we have good attitudes,” Pruitt said. “I am excited to see how we look after the first two scrimmages and leading up to the opener on August 23.”
Cherryville has qualified for the 1A playoffs three years in a row, and the record has improved each year during that stretch.
“You hope to build upon the year before, and that the kids understand the process. You want to find ways to keep getting better. Our goal is to win the three phases of the season and do better in the playoffs than we did last year,” Pruitt said.
Cherryville’s scrimmages are Aug. 13 at home against Fred T. Foard and Aug. 16 on the road against Bunker Hill. The season opener is a conference game Aug. 23 at Rudisill Stadium versus Christ the King.