It’s not like East Hamilton has to revamp its offense.
A tweak will suffice.
Sure, Logan Jackson, last season’s workhorse tailback, has taken his mended right knee and superlative talents that produced 1,624 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns and 8.9-yard per-carry average to UT-Chattanooga as a preferred walk-on freshman.
However, a glance at the Hurricanes’ 2012 statistics shows that then-sophomore Matt Milita and senior Lemond Greer combined for 1,528 yards, 17 scores and a 7.5-yard per-carry average.
Greer graduated. Milita is back.
This season Milita, a speedy waterbug-type back, will carry a bulk of the rushing attack on his 5-foot-7-inch, 155-pound frame that enabled him to rush 70 times for 895 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 12.8 yards per carry.
“He’s quick as a hiccup,” East Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said of Milita, who will debut as the team’s starting tailback in Friday’s season-opener at Signal Mountain.
Another huge plus for the Hurricanes’ offense is the return of quarterback Hunter Moore, who is coming off a solid junior campaign that helped guide his team to the Class 4A playoff quarterfinals and a school-record 11 wins in a 13-game season.
Moore, who has made a verbal commitment to Central Arkansas of the Southland Conference, is entering his third year as the offensive field general.
With Gatewood willing to throw more in 2013, two-way threat Tre Herndon, a sure-handed wide receiver/cornerback with a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt, may be more involved in the offense this time around.
With the three returning stars as the focus, the Hurricanes’ offensive prospectus appears to be as solid as any team in the Chattanooga area. And, as always, Gatewood usually starts with the run.
Jackson accounted for almost 50 percent of the team’s rushing last season, but when he went down with a season-ending knee injury in the second quarter of a 38-0 first-round playoff win against Marshall County, Milita came on to gain 78 yards on seven carries and Greer added 69 yards on 12 rushes, including a 22-yard touchdown.
In a 35-14 second-round rout of Page, Greer went off for a personal-best 196 yards and two short touchdown runs and Milita added a season-high 107 yards and a score.
Milita rushed nine times for 91 yards and a touchdown against top-ranked Giles County, which held Greer to 34 yards on eight runs.
All those impressive numbers should climb in Milita’s junior year as his work load increases.
“I was a role player last year behind a good back in Logan Jackson,” Milita said. “That was good experience for me and made me a better back. People in role situations like I was in respect the people in front of them, but the whole team believed in me and knew I could run the football.
“It paid off because I made the most of my playing time.”
Milita has added 10 pounds to prepare for his expanded role and believes that will improve his durability.
“I wanted to add weight but maintain my speed,” said Milita, who has a 4.58 40-yard dash time. “I’ve still got my speed and use that to get through the first level of defense and find space. I get there as quick as I can.”
Moore says Milita is a different style runner than Jackson, but the results could be the same as the Hurricanes move out of District 6-AA into the more challenging District 5-AAA this season.
“Ever since Logan got hurt Matt has looked great,” Moore said. “He’s one of the quickest players we have on the team. He’s got another gear. Logan was a good back, but he could be caught from behind sometimes. Matt is so quick that if he gets a step on you he’s probably going to score.”
Milita’s quickness was never more obvious than in a 37-6 trouncing of perennial 6-AA title contender Tyner. Milita, in his only carry of the game, bolted 67 yards for a touchdown.
Gatewood addressed the differences between Milita and Jackson.
“He’s not more versatile than Logan,” Gatewood said, “but what he can do is make it tough (on defenders) in space. Matt has gotten stronger without losing speed and coupled with his experience, that’s a good thing.”
Herndon is one of the top two-way threats in the Chattanooga area and impressive talent package made him the first Southeastern Conference commitment in the school’s five-year history.
As a junior, Herndon caught nine passes for 167 yards – he averaged 18.6 yards per catch – and one touchdown. Defensively, the 6-0, 180-pounder with 4.4-second speed, was credited with 20 tackles and an interception that he returned 13 yards.
Herndon brings a lot more to the secondary than just statistics.
He won’t be challenged too often with quarterbacks electing to shy away from his side of the field.
“Having Tre back there means two things,” Gatewood said. “One, he can cover very well and he’s a very physical corner. He enjoys people coming at him. And, he understands his role and what he’s supposed to do.”
Herndon, who shared the 2012 District 6-AA Defensive Player of the Year award with departed teammate Cody Knox, without question will play defense with the Commodores.
Concentrating on one side of the ball can only make Herndon a better player in the toughest college football conference in the country, with seven consecutive national titles to its credit.
Until then, however, Herndon is going to make the most of playing both ways.
“On the high school level, I love playing offense and my first love has always been wide receiver,” said Herndon, who was clocked at 4.45 at the University of Memphis camp in June. “But I started making plays on defense and recruiters kept telling me I need to play corner. I’m going with what the colleges want.”
Time spent on offense, especially running all those routes translates into added knowledge for Herndon when he’s covering those same routes as a cornerback.
Also, when a pass comes his way he has a better than average chance at the interception, or at the very least knocking the ball away from an intended receiver.
“I have good hand-eye coordinator, which is important in catching the ball,” Herndon said. “When I’m running my routes and trying to find a way around a defensive back, I try to use that on defense when receivers are trying to get away from me.”
Good luck with that.
Moore, who became the starter one game into his sophomore season, has a calming effect on the offensive unit, and that comes from the fact that he’s an experienced starter, Gatewood said.
“That’s a tremendous thing,” the coach said. “He sees and understands what’s going on out there. He has a good football mind with a very good knowledge of what we’re trying to do.”
Gatewood said Moore’s biggest assets coming into this season are added speed, an improved release point on his throws and a solid grasp of the offense.
Moore says the offensive scheme will be practically the same as it was in 2010 when the school fielded its first team and opponents outscored the 1-9 Hurricanes, 407-69, with 30 of East Hamilton’s points coming in its lone win over Lancaster Christian Academy.
This offense, however, is expected to run more efficiently and be just as explosive as last year’s group when the Hurricanes outscored their opponents, 503-182.
“I think we can be as good, maybe a little better than last year,” said Moore, the 2012 District 6-AA Quarterback of the Year. “We lost some good guys, but we have good guys stepping up.”
Among the players “stepping up” are Milita and offensive linemen Jordan Wallace (right tackle, Sr., 6-5, 290), Tanner Wade (left guard, Jr., 5-11, 225) and Dustin Reed (right guard, Jr., 6-1, 230).
“We scrimmaged Maryville and ran the ball really well on our first drive, threw the ball three times, and went right down and scored on them,” Moore said. “They’re a really good team and we gained some assurance that we’re probably not going to be the worst team in our district this year.”
If the offense and defense comes together, as they did a year ago, Gatewood is confident the Hurricanes—they replaced Rhea County in District 5-AAA after the Golden Eagles moved to 6-AAA – can have positive results.
“We’ve got an opportunity to be a good offense, but it remains to be seen how high we can take the bar,” he said. “We feel good about the defense, although we have to replace two inside linebackers – Zack Thomas, Griffin Reagan, Garrett Campbell and Branson Kennedy are battling there.
“We’ve got a really tough schedule, but it’s a great schedule for competition and development. There is no coasting, and there wasn’t any last year, but the key to this year is every Friday night will be a challenge.”
After opening with Signal Mountain, the Hurricanes play in order Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett, Walker Valley, Riverdale, Ooltewah, Cleveland, two-time defending district champion McMinn County, Soddy-Daisy, Rhea County and Bradley Central.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)