The Lincolnton Wolves football team stepped onto the practice field for the first day of their outdoor summer workouts on Thursday. Turnout for the first day was around 22 players, mostly rising freshmen.
“We’re going to go through some learning stages, that’s for sure,” head coach Scott Cloninger said. “But we were able to teach and coach, and I was very pleased with the interest and enthusiasm from the young people we had there. The very interesting this was we had some kids who have never played before who were coming out and wanting to play football.”
The team graduated the vast majority of its starting roster from 2011’s state runner-up team, including 10 of its 11 starting defenders and the offensive powerhouse of quarterback Patrick Rendleman, wingback Michael Cunningham and record-setting fullback Dee Littlejohn. Several of the athletes who will be seniors in the fall were absent from Thursday’s workouts.
“We’re very excited about the young ones that are here and we’re disappointed in the older ones who weren’t,” Cloninger said. “We understand that some of them are at the beach, but we’re disappointed they weren’t here and we expect them to be here next week.”
The Wolves have three offensive linemen returning from last year’s team, and Cloninger said they’re expected to shoulder a heavy load and provide leadership to what will otherwise be a young team.
“They’re the ones that we’re going to have to run behind and trust, and they’re going to take us as far as they can,” he said. “How do you replace Littlejohn, Rendleman, Cunningham and people like that? I had an old coach who said a lot of times you can just replace them, but I don’t know if we can replace those three guys.”
There was a lackluster turnout in the weight room during spring sessions, but Cloninger said he expected a group that is more representative of what the final team will look like to come out now that summer workouts have officially begun.
“The weight room has been a little slow,” he said. “We don’t have many seniors on this team and we’re going to have to step up the leadership there. I think once summer starts we’ll be going full tilt.”
What the team lacked from rising seniors during the early days of weight training, it made up with freshman, some of whom may find themselves playing on the varsity squad in August.
“I was impressed with the ninth graders in the weight room on Wednesday,” Cloninger said. “We had a dozen ninth graders there, and that shows a lot of promise for the future. We feel like the ninth grade class is going to be a very important class for us this year. With as many people as we’ve lost, if you can play you’re going to play. We’re not playing favorites, we’re going to put the best bodies on the field and we’re going to make sure those ninth graders can handle the pressures and the physical game. I met with them and I told them that if they’re good enough to play they’re going to play on Friday night.”
Lincolnton fans familiar with the Wolves’ double-wing, triple option offensive scheme can expect more of the same in 2012, with a heavy reliance on the fullback position.
“We have three fullbacks: Darian Roseboro, Tyrone Roberts and Justice Charles,” Cloninger said. “We’re going to be fullback-oriented this year and to help the defense we’re going to try to keep the ball away from the other team and run the clock as much as we can. We’re going to throw some big bodies at you at the fullback position. That’s how you get four yards, then four yards, then four yards and it’s first down. Then you do it again and there’s four minutes taken off the clock.”
A starting quarterback has not been established yet for the Wolves, but several members of the team are traveling to Wofford College this weekend to attend a camp on quarterbacking a triple option offense.
The biggest shakeup may come from the defensive side of the ball. The Wolves ran a 3-4 defense last year but, given the number of experienced starters that graduated, that may change with the upcoming team’s personnel.
“Defensively, we’ll probably have to scheme a little bit different than we have in the past because of the players we’ve lost,” Cloninger said. “Defensive coach Ledford Gibson and our guys do you a great job, and we’re going to have to change to the personnel we have. We feel like we’ll be OK on the defensive line, but the linebacker core is completely gone and the secondary is completely gone. Those are the two big concerns.”
According to North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules, football teams can work out with shoulder pads and helmets during the summer, but cannot participate in body-to-body contact until July 30.