Sylva – Smoky Mountain Mustangs return most starters and have another star runner as they look to climb back up the league rankings.
SMHS was 2-5 in the spring with one conference win. But head coach Rick Brindley’s Mustangs return seven starters on offense and seven on defense. They opened this season by beating Cherokee 41-13 and scoring at least 20 in each half. Then they lost 21-9 to Swain County last Friday.
Isaiah McNeely (5-7, 182 so.) ran for three touchdowns and 154 yards (7.0 ypc.). McNeely is a “physical, downhill runner,” Brindley said. His backup is Jesse Jones (5-10, 171 jr.). McNeely succeeds graduated star runner Dustin Stephens who averaged 141.5 rushing yards and 1.5 TDs this spring. Stephens ran for 1,523 yards (9.2 ypc.) and 20 TDs in 2019. Then-senior Will Frady ran for 1,669 yards as SMHS rushed for four TDs and nearly 300 yards per game in ‘19. The result was a 8-4 mark and three-way tie atop the league at 4-1.
Mustang quarterback Jed West (6-0, 165 so.) passed for over 200 yards and for a score. West started the last two games in the spring as a freshman. He also excels as a basketball shooting guard and baseball shortstop. “He’s probably the most intelligent kid I’ve coached,” Brindley said. “He understands the game.” He said West has “great arm strength. He’s extremely accurate. He’s continuing to develop his anticipation” of situations.
Coach Brindley “demands excellence,” QB West said. All-conference receiver Darien Bird (6-1, 215 sr.) said “he challenges us to do our best.” Bird does. Strong, surehanded Bird caught a TD pass and surpassed 100 yards on four receptions in the opener. SMHS’ spread usually deploys four receivers at once. Other receiving starters are quick Brylen Conlin (5-11, 155 sr.), elusive Brett Richmond (5-10, 165 jr.) and fast Da’mare Williams (6-0, 160 so.).
Big horses up front are RG Britt Burch (6-7, 328 sr.), RT Colin Crowe (6-1, 272 sr.), LG Tyler Bailey (6-1, 260 jr.), LT Zeb Fisher (6-3, 235 jr.) and center Mabry Bumgarner (5-9, 200 jr.). Four are returning starters. Brindley said “they understand assignments, and execute.” Crowe points to team “pride.”
PK Zeke Sink (6-0, 206 jr.) has a reliable field goal range of 35 yards.
The 4-3 defense’s star is strong DT Crowe. He is already twice all-conference. “He’s so explosive off of the ball,” Brindley said. “We have good speed and can be good in tackling.” Coach Brindley foresees that “Franklin and we have a great chance to win our league” — with Pisgah also strongly contending.