Warhorses Look to Stampede Foes - TribPapers
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Warhorses Look to Stampede Foes

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Black Mountain – Coach Zach Gibson is renewing Warhorse toughness in his second year as lead Warhorse. Coach Gibson, a 2011 Enka grad, played offensive line and linebacker for Enka then for Mars Hill. He coached at Enka in 2014-16, and was offensive coordinator at Asheville High in 2016-17 then Pisgah in 2018-21 before taking charge of Owen in 2022.

Gibson has a motto: “We have four pillars — discipline, fellowship, preparedness, and physicality.” He wants Owen to outdo foes with its “attention to details” in practice. “That’s how we find our edge.” Also, he said, “We’re creating a bond, a family here. I want the players to know I care.” Star Will Johnson distinguishes how Coach Gibson might “laugh in the office, but on the field (in practice) he gets on our asses.”

Coach Zach Gibson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Coach Zach Gibson. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Owen’s sole win in 2022 was over league rival Rosman, by 43-0. The struggling Tigers are like the favorite dance partner at the prom. Everyone likes to take them for a whirl. They come to Owen on Oct. 6. Owen started this season with a 37-14 loss at Enka. Owen was penalized for a whopping 129 yards, compared to 75 for Enka.

But there was a silver lining. The defense scored two touchdowns, which is quite an unusual feat. Owen led 14-13, before Enka took control. In 2022, Owen lost by merely two points to Madison — by 35-33. The game is at Owen, on Oct. 27 in the regular season finale.

If the Warhorses beat the Patriots, they would as usual surpass them in the 2A race within the 2A/1A Western Highlands Conference. There is merely one automatic 2A playoff berth. When Mountain Heritage dropped from 2A to 1A before last season, it opened the door wide open. Madison stepped into it, instead of Owen. The hard-nosed WHC is dominated by a 1A trio in Heritage, Mitchell, and now also Draughn which returns its quarterback and two running backs.

Owen ran the ball three-fourths percent of the time in 2022 with its multiple Wing T, but will pass more now with a Pisgah-like hybrid Wing T. Gibson said of new quarterback Jakob Knighton (6-2, 170 sr.), “with Jakob’s arm talent, we run first but can counter more with passes.” Knighton succeeds gritty ‘23 grad Alex Sanchez at quarterback. Knighton started at tight end in ‘22. He can take hits. He now throws passes, rather than catches them.

‘Coach on Field’

Stocky, strong fullback-halfback Will Johnson (5-10, 170 sr.) is the heart of this team. He is a superbly strong runner and punishing tackler as a linebacker. “Will is like a coach on the field. He leads by example” in training and games, Coach Gibson said. “He goes as hard as he can. Pound for pound, he’s the strongest kid we have.” Johnson bulked up by 20 pounds. The entire team is stronger, averaging 60 pounds heavier in “max squat” weightlifting in the spring versus in 2022.

Taj Burgin-Edgerton (6-0, 155 jr.), among others, is “quick and elusive” yet also capable of “power running,” Gibson said. Slender new wingbacks Brandon Ledbetter and J.J. Calloway are in line for handoffs and passes. Two to three receivers typically line up at a time for Owen. Possession targets are tall seniors Ryland King (6-0, 180) and Hudson Minks (6-1, 155), and quick Ben Austin (5-9, 140 sr.) and TE Tru Davis (5-10, 150 so.).

Strong, mobile Warhorses up front include returning starter Alex Greene (5-11, 245 sr.), guards Carter Reeves (5-11, 195 jr.) and Austin Anderson (6-0, 225 jr.), and freshman left tackle Rio Obispo. They are stocky and have great “leverage,” Coach Gibson said. “We’ll grind our way downfield.”

On defense, “we’ll stunt and blitz to get opponents off track,” Gibson said. It worked in the first half of the opener last Friday. Outside linebacker King returned an interception 35 yards for a “pick six” TD at Enka. The base formation switches from 4-3 in ‘22 to 3-4-4. Starters are ILBs Johnson and Calloway, OLBs King and Knighton; DL Elba Njee (6-1, 215 sr.), Tristan King, and Liam Franklin; and DBs Minks, Hayden Burpeau, Austin, and Asante Martin (5-8, 148 so.).

The Warhorses are eying gains both on the scoreboard and in character. Coach Gibson said, “we’re building our brand.”