Eagle Spirits Soars; HHS is in ‘Beast Mode’ - TribPapers

Eagle Spirits Soars; HHS is in ‘Beast Mode’

East Henderson stars include, L-R: QB Lex Burns (7), RB James Robinson (2), linemen Wyatt Nabers (77) and Jacob Capps (55), and WR-S Leland Prutzman (5). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

East Flat Rock – The biggest change in Henderson County football for 2023 is East Henderson’s inspiring new coaching and player leadership.

All four teams have new starting quarterbacks, heading into their season openers on Friday, Aug. 18. West Henderson graduated WNC’s leading passer Lukas Kachilo. Veteran head coach Paul Whitaker is auditioning promising sophomore Jacob Young and swift senior Jude Lyda at QB. Their main task is getting the ball to superstar Falcon receiver Truitt Manuel.

North Henderson Knight senior Mason Fowler has the most varsity experience at quarterback in the county. He started one-third of 2022 games, for head coach Jim Beatty.

Hendersonville features running back Hezzie Rudisill. The Bearcat QB future is bright with two contenders, in Kirron Ward’s second season at the helm. Freshman JaRon Ward showed outstanding dual-threat talent in the 12-12 tie with host Erwin in a four-scrimmage “jamboree.” Ivey Harper, a junior nursing an injury, was a reliable varsity backup in 2022.

The star Bearcat on Friday was C.J. Landrum. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior said he approves of the Tribune nicknaming him “Beast.” This is for how he overpowers foes in making catches and breaking tackles as a wide receiver, and for crunching ball carriers as a fourth-year starting defensive lineman.

Amir Albany, a hard-hitting sophomore linebacker, recovered an Erwin fumble. He is a grandson of Harold Albany, the high scorer for the 1972 state basketball champion Cats.

In openers on Friday, North Henderson hosts Hendersonville, East is at North Buncombe, while West is at Newton-Conover. These games start at 7:30 p.m.

New East Chapter

East Henderson’s quarterback is savvy junior Lex Burns. New head coach Colton Brackett said he can tell that in the past two years, his predecessor Bobby James taught football fundamentals well based on how Eagle players are developing. Brackett said that these Eagles “know how to play football.”

Several Eagles told the Tribune that they feel even more confident with East alumnus Brackett leading them. Brackett, 31, was a starting Eagle senior receiver under head coach Brett Chappell in 2009, a year after East went 13-2.

Brackett coached Roberson receivers and (typically 110) track athletes for the past eight years, since 2015-16. He is among the youngest handful of varsity head football coaches statewide. Yet he already has 11 prior years of football coaching experience, since he volunteered coaching East receivers as a 19-year-old Western Carolina University walk-on middle distance runner.

James departed months ago, amidst a cloud of family complaints over Eagle players playing through severe injuries in 2022. Brackett, like James, is very enthusiastic and complimentary of players’ strengths. Yet he is smoother in critiquing players, based on some Eagle families’ social media comments. QB Burns said that Brackett “interacts a lot better” with players than James did.
Eagle Energy, Effort Sizzles

Coach Brackett is drawing superb praise from his players, for football knowledge and his approach. “He has loads of personality,” star receiver/strong safety Leland Prutzman said. “He energizes the whole team and town.” Receiver Isaac Schulz said that “he’s so energetic” — and that rubs off.

Guard Gabe Jones is thankful that Brackett “knows our community” as an Eagle alumnus. New running back James Robinson likes the team chemistry. “We’re more like friends” than on his high school team near Baltimore.

Lineman Wyatt Nabers likes how Brackett “works with us directly” — individually — with specific pointers on blocking “technique,” and challenges them to keep improving. Lineman Capps, like Nabers, is a 6-foot-8 senior weighing over 300 pounds. Capps takes pride in “responsibility and leadership to guide” younger blockers.

‘Balls to the Walls’

Schulz likes how Coach Brackett “sticks to routines, but also mixes them up” which makes it fun. Brackett holds some practices in full pads, for aggressive hitting. “It’s ‘balls to the walls’ with full effort,” he said.

East played to scoreless scrimmage ties last Friday, against Cherokee and Madison. “Our defense flew around. Pursuit was phenomenal. They’re seeing some success, in the little things. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You gotta coach ‘em up. They’re going to screw up. I’m usually not upset. But when I get upset,” it gets their attention.

During the game Friday, “I lit some fire under their asses,” Brackett said. “Bringing energy adds some spark,” which he saw in Eagle efforts. “Whether I’m excited or ‘pissed off,’ they respond to it.”

Brackett is East’s strength and conditioning coach. He is a stickler for strength training — just like Roberson head coach J.D. Dinwiddie. Brackett is called “Little J.D.” by East DL coach Cody Searcy and secondary coach Randy Atkins, who came with him from TCR.

“I’m not a (frequent) yeller like J.D. is,” Brackett said, “but I’ll ‘get after it.’” He said that Chappell, too, “demands high expectations” and crisp “execution” of schemes. Like his two coaching mentors, Brackett is confident, brash, and outgoing. Like animated Dinwiddie, Brackett gets “silly at times” at practices.

Brackett looks to steadily revive Eagle excellence. He recently told his players, “Thirty years from now, you’ll still see my ass walking up and down the sidelines. You’ll know you’re a part of it (success).”