COACH: Joe Salas
2012: 5-6 (1-4 SEC). Lost in first round of state playoffs at Jack Britt
KEY RETURNERS: Demetri Sheridan (Sr., LB), Jermaine Williams (Jr., DL), Bryan Carpenter (Sr., WR), Travis Suggs (Jr., DB)
NO. OF PLAYERS IN TOP 25: 3
PROJECTED FINISH: 2-9
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LUMBERTON — No one said transitioning from the Wing-T offense to the Air Raid in the powerful Southeastern Conference would be easy.
First-year coach Joe Salas is expecting many challenges at Lumberton this fall as he lays the foundation for the next phase at a program previously known for its game-managing, defense-first mentality over the last several seasons.
“Experts will tell you it takes a year and a half to change the culture within an organization,” Salas said. “It takes a year and a half to figure out and master how things work in any situation. We’re still in that period at Lumberton for the coaches and for the kids. They’ve got to figure out this is how we do things and this is what’s important. I think the light bulb’s starting to go off.”
The Pirates are coming off their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason including a record five straight under Mike Brill, who called fewer passing plays in a season than Salas will draw up in three quarters. The complete 180-degree turn in philosophy has encountered its share of headache in preseason practice, but Salas likes what he’s seen this summer from a special group of players who have assumed leadership roles within his program.
He’s quick to remind anyone following Lumberton’s progression however that it’s more about the process — and less wins and losses — in year 1.
“If you do the things it takes to be great and focus, the results will come,” Salas said. “These guys are still finding an identity, how this program will be defined. They’ve got a chance to make their mark.”
Like most expansion teams limited on the number of reps prior to game situations, Lumberton’s defense is “a few steps” ahead of its offense with the season opener against Douglas Byrd scheduled this week. Senior linebacker Demetri Sheridan will be the guy barking out calls for first-year defensive coordinator Ron Cook, who joined the Pirates after leading the charge at Red Springs in 2012.
As is the case with fast-paced offenses early in the season, it’ll take a quarter or two before Lumberton finds its rhythm and starts moving the sticks. That’s where the Sheridan-Cook tandem on defense comes into play along with pass-rushing specialist Jermaine Williams and safety Travis Suggs, two players in The Robesonian’s preseason Top 25.
They’re prepared for a few early three-and-outs.
“We can’t worry about how our offense is doing. We have the do the best job we can when we’re on the field,” Sheridan said. “Coach Cook always teaches us to run to the football because you never know if the first guy will make the tackle. Eleven hats to the ball is kind of our motto.”
Anchored by veteran leaders on a confident defense, one of Salas’ sticking points with his young group of Pirates has been accountability, something Lumberton’s seniors have taken to heart.
“I know I’m basically the quarterback of the defense, so all of our mistakes fall on my shoulders,” Sheridan said. “We know that to be successful, we all have to look out for one another and take responsibility for the way we play.”
Most of Lumberton’s starters on offense lack experience, but there are a handful of returners who made an impact at different positions under the previous regime. Will Everette and Josh Sheridan battled throughout July for the team’s quarterback spot, one of the most important roles in a hurry-up attack that’s based on tempo and number of snaps.
Salas says his focus over the final few practices is getting players to block, not necessarily throw and catch. The Air Raid’s yardage producers are interchangeable, but controlling the line of scrimmage isn’t mastered with the same by-committee approach.
“Every coach in America right now would like to see better play on their offensive line,” Salas said. “We’ll be as good on offense as we can be if those guys up front can block.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS or using the hashtag #ROBCOFB.