Wednesday, August 12, 2015

East Central Community College Football Ready for Breakout Season in 2015

After two years of laying the foundation for a successful football program, East Central Community College Head Coach Ken Karcher is optimistic his Warriors will be in a position to win more games in the 2015 season as preseason practices got underway Aug. 5.Karcher, who took over as ECCC’s head coach prior to the 2013 season, led the Warriors to a 1-8 record that first fall, while improving to 3-6 last season in the toughest junior college football league in the nation.

He says the foundation that was started in 2013 is starting to take hold as the Warriors enter the new campaign.

“That first year we were not in a position to be competitive with most teams and we weren’t sure we could win a game,” Karcher said. “Last year we made more strides that I thought we would. We had some games we were in and could have won if we had taken advantage of the opportunities. I felt we ended up record-wise about where we should have when we started, but the disappointment was that we could have probably won three more games.”

Karcher, a former NFL quarterback in his 25th year of coaching,
said the disappointment of not winning more games in 2014 brings enthusiasm and optimism for the 2015 squad.

“The disappointment of not finishing some games last year has given us great encouragement that we are ahead in our foundation building,” he said. “Heading into this year we are very optimistic. Our coaches have done a great job recruiting, and I look for us to be more competitive with more teams. What that will mean on the scoreboard, I don’t know, but I think we’ll be in a position to win more games this year.”

Karcher welcomed 72 players competing for 55 roster and 10 practice squad spots when the team reported for fall practice. After three days of no-contact practices, the Warriors began alternating two-a-day practices with single practice days leading up to an Aug. 15 scrimmage before beginning preparation on the season opener. The Warriors begin the 2015 campaign hosting Mississippi Delta in Bailey Stadium at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 27.

The strength of the Warriors again this season will be on the defensive side of the football, which Karcher believes has improved the most since his first season. East Central allowed an average of 22 points a game last season, after giving up more than 40 points per game in 2013.

Expectations are high for the secondary, where three starters return, including safety Austin Balthazor of Seminary High School in Collins, and cornerbacks Jaylon Lofton of Forest High School and Trey Sloan out of Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg. Balthazor led the team in tackles with 65, while Lofton picked off two passes last season. Also returning is Devontae Wilson, a product of Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, who logged a considerable amount of playing time in the defensive backfield in 2014.

Anchoring the defensive front will be Jadarius Ceasar, a 6-5, 225-pound defensive end from Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Ceasar was second on the team in 2014 with 61 tackles, including four sacks. Freshmen Rosheem Collins, a 6-1, 320-pound defensive tackle out of Ware County High School in Waycross, Ga., and Courtney Stamper, a 6-5, 262-pound defensive end from Red Bank High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., will be counted on to contribute early.

“I think we’ll be very good up front and we’ll have a strong secondary,” said Karcher. “Those are the strengths of our defense, which we expect to be the core of the team.”

Offensively, the key will be getting consistent and productive play
out of the quarterback position.

“We struggled our first two years with inconsistent play at quarterback,” said Karcher, who also serves as East Central’s offensive coordinator. “That position is going to have to be very consistent and very productive for us. I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing, but that is critical for our football team.”

While Karcher is not ready to name a starter, Jesse Hosket, a product of French Camp High School and transfer from Itawamba Community College, was the leader going into fall practice. The 6-4, 215-pound signal caller is being challenged for the starting slot by Trey Willis of Forest Hill High School in Jackson, who played in eight games for the Warriors last season, and Vonnie Howard, who transferred from Pearl River Community College after playing high school football at Murrah High School in Jackson.

“Jesse Hosket is leading this group at the moment, but I’m still not ready to name a starter,” said Karcher. “He has taken charge and said, ‘I want to be the leader of this offense.’ Trey continues to improve as well.”

Sophomore running back SaVon Robinson of Raymond High School in Crystal Springs will try to fill the gap left by the departing Lamarcus Franks, who led the Warriors in rushing last fall.

“I feel good about our running backs,” said Karcher. “Savon Robinson is a young man who has ability, and we signed three other players who we think can really play, so we are excited to see what they can do.”

Kabion Ento returns to lead the Warrior receiving corp. The product of Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff, Ark., caught 21 passes last year for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Several newcomers also are expected to contribute.

“Wide receiver will probably be our most skilled area this fall,” noted Karcher.

With three starters returning on the offensive line and two other returning linemen with extensive playing time, East Central is looking to be much improved on the offensive side of the ball entering the 2015 season.

“Offensively, we have an experienced group and our skill level has increased,” Karcher explained. “If we can get the production we want and need at quarterback, I think we can be very good on offense.”

Karcher also expects marked improvement in the kicking game this year. Sophomore Aaron Garrett from Meridian High School and freshman Zach Claycomb from Hartfield Academy in Flowood are competing for the kicking and punting duties.

“Both young men have real strong legs and I’m very pleased with both of them,” said Karcher. “I feel like we have two kickers who are going to strengthen us in two areas where we struggled last year.”

The kick return game also should be solid and improved over a year ago, Karcher noted.

“We are growing into what we want to be as a football program,”
Karcher said. “I’m excited and optimistic that we will improve. How much? We just won’t know until we get into pads and into the games. We have enough talent to compete with everyone on our schedule.

“Our coaches have done a very good and thorough job of evaluating talent. Some young men who may have been overlooked by others, our coaches are finding. Our goal each year is to find a player that’s better than what we currently have. Time will tell, but I feel like that’s happening.”

There is one addition to Karcher’s coaching staff this season. Taylorsville native Derek Welch is serving as assistant defensive backs coach after joining the staff in February. He previously served in the same position at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. Welch played his college football at Jones County Junior College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Returning coaches include Scott Brock, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach; Mickey Mays, defensive line coach and special teams coordinator; Charles Jones, defensive backs coach and head strength coach; Dennis Alexander, offensive line coach; Ben Cooper, tight ends and running backs coach; and Tylan Martin, wide receivers coach.

East Central’s schedule features five home games on the synthetic turf of Bailey Stadium in Decatur, including the opening game Aug. 27. The Warriors also play at home Thursday, Sept. 3, against Coahoma at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, vs. Copiah-Lincoln at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, vs. Hinds at6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 17, against Southwest at 2:30 p.m. in the annual Homecoming game.

The Warriors will travel to Gulf Coast on Sept. 10, Holmes on Sept. 17, Jones on Oct. 10 and Pearl River on Oct. 22.