Weaverville – North Buncombe returns star runner Joe Jones, to build upon two turnaround seasons in a new phase of competitiveness.
The Black Hawks won six then seven games in the past two seasons, after winning once in the prior two seasons. “We have a great culture. The kids changed the mindset,” head coach Brandon Allen said. “This senior class has great leadership and attitudes. This is my fourth year here. I had these guys as freshmen. I’ve grown close to this special group.” He credits OC Zach Shook and DC Ben Rhodarmer, too, for the program’s rise.
Last season the Hawks’ 29-27 squeaker at Tuscola avenged a “spanking” in 2017, then a one-point loss in ‘18. Another huge WMAC win was 20-14 over a Roberson team fresh off of an upset at Asheville. “We made a big drive, to run the clock out,” Allen recalled. “It’s a big deal anytime to beat a team like TC. They have so many athletes.”
The Hawks lost by merely three to AHS to conclude the ‘19 regular season but made 3A playoffs. They thrashed local rival Madison 46-0 then 63-0 in ‘19, to turn around the series and “get that jug back,” Allen said.
Despite a two-season upswing, “we’re still hunters chasing others” providing foes a “physical war,” Allen reasons. He points to WMAC coaches collectively predicting NBHH right in the middle of the nine-team race. However, the Hawks are picked ahead of fellow rushing-based teams Tuscola and West Henderson — in the unofficial second of three WMAC tiers. That is progression.
Starting the “Spring” 2021 season in February can theoretically help rushing teams if the weather is chilly, windy and wet and the field gets slick and slows quick spread offenses. The Hawks’ shotgun wing T deploys a tailback, two wingbacks, split end and tight end. This “power-spread” is “gap-based” to beat zones. Allen noted NBHS uses “power counter runs” with misdirection and cutbacks, and mixes in multiple sets.
Wingback Joe Jones (6-0, 195 sr.) ran for nearly 1,100 yards and for 18 touchdowns in ‘19. Jones is tough, with great field vision and breakaway speed, Allen said. “Joe’s a special back. He gets you tough yards between the tackles. He can also stretch the defense on the perimeter, and can score.”
Wingback Trent Cole (5-10, 170 sr.) ran for 11 scores and 734 yards. Cole and Jones each averaged eight yards per carry. Cole caught 20 passes, as the team’s top returning receiver. “Trent’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s also exceptional. We have two backs capable of getting tough yards. Both have the speed to break it when they get into second and third gear. They compliment each other.” Sub WB-TE Jesse Wyatt (6-0, 190 sr.) blocks well.
Run-heavy NBHS had merely six passing TDs. Accuracy is crucial pm surprise passes. QB Walker Corbin (6-2, 170 sr.) delivers reliability. He completed 62 percent of throws. “He is extremely unselfish, much bigger and faster,” and quick to decide in RPOs whether to run it himself or to pass, Allen said. Corbin is among five returning starters on offense.
Receivers include sure-handed Keegan Tuffo (6-1, 170 jr.), Dalton Kirchner (6-1, 175 sr.), flanker Spencer Roane (5-11, 165 so.), and Gabe Banks (6-1, 170 sr.). Two hoops stars are tall targets — WR Bryce Payne (6-4, 225 sr.) and Caleb Lominac (6-5, 210 sr.).
The O-line is faster now and returns a trio — pulling RG Jonathan Lavezzo (5-9, 215 sr.), LT Ben Wyatt (6-0, 215 jr.) and RT Isaac Melikian (5-10, 225 sr.). New starters are center Dakota Finley (6-2, 300 sr.) and LG Ryne Norton (6-0, 200 so.).
The multiple defense features fourth-year starting MLB Kolbie Hughey (5-7, 195 sr.) as a vocal leader and playmaker deluxe. “Kolbie is unbelievable in making (sudden) adjustments for us,” Allen said. “He has great instincts. He takes amazing angles.” Other likely starters are LBs Israel McKinney (5-11, 175 sr.) and Ayden Chandler (6-0, 200 jr.), DE Noah Ponder (6-2, 205 sr.) and CB Rayce Pickens (6-1, 175 jr.). “This is the fastest defense” in four years, and players “know their assignments,” Allen said.
“We make our living in the weight room. But that (full-fledge) off-season was stripped away from us” by pandemic rules, said muscular Allen. He looks as if he out-lifts his coaching rivals. “We have awesome kids who worked extremely hard — but in a very condensed manner. Hard work gets us to where we’re at.” Coach Allen hopes the Hawks again perch high enough on the WMAC pecking pole, to qualify for playoffs.