Swift Cougars Eager to Reclaim MAC Crown - TribPapers

Swift Cougars Eager to Reclaim MAC Crown

Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Asheville – Cort Radford rejuvenated the program’s hard-nosed intensity as soon as he took over in 2020, amidst the first year of COVID. He is in his fourth season. Two seasons ago, Asheville (9-3) with its stingy defense was MAC champ at 6-0, and won nine straight.

“We made good strides in the program,” Radford said of the past two years. “The kids understand our expectations. They expect to win, when they step on the field. It’s because of preparation. We shifted the mindset, to what Asheville was in the early 2000s and before.” Indeed, Asheville dominated the MAC for a decade — culminating in the 2005 3A state title.

Asheville is 4A now. Its early losses in 2023 include to Charlotte Providence Day and Michigan-bound Jadyn Davis, rated as the nation’s third-best dual quarterback.

Now as much as ever, “team speed is what we hang our hat on,” Coach Radford said.

Sleek Meek

Asheville returns seven on offense, including five skill players. AHS has its own star “Triplets” with its returning quarterback, a sizzling new runner, and a new leading receiver. QB Meek Slydell (6-1, 175 so.) developed as a freshman, and is making more strides. “He processes the game quicker. It’s slowed down for him” more, Radford said. “It no longer seems like bullets are flying around.” Slydell said, “I know when to keep it, and when to throw it” in “read options.”

The tools are there, Radford said. “He has a cannon. With the ball on the 50, he’s thrown it out of the back of the end zone. He’s getting better at timing. Meek can also throw from all angles,” like Patrick Mahomes. Syldell has 4.5 speed. “He’s a game-changer.”

Codrington, Cadre of Receivers

Slydell’s new go-to receiver is Christopher “C.J.” Morgan (5-10, 160 sr.), a transfer from Erwin. The slot receiver has the most Cougar receptions so far. Deep threat Tre Codrington (6-3, 160 sr.) is making clutch catches. WR Tremaine Keeter (6-0, 160 so.) also “can fly,” Radford said.

He likes the upside of flanker-WR Kareem Williams (6-3, 160 jr.). “He has a good mix of speed and a high IQ. He understands space, reading the top of coverage. He knows where to go, and has good hands.” TE-FB-WR Jeremiah Jones (6-0, 194 sr.) is a third-year starter. AHS lines up as many as five receivers at once.

End Zone is ‘Ellis Island’

The other star “triplet” is Josh Ellis (5-6, 140 jr.). The fast (4.03 “pro shuttle” and sturdy transfer from McDowell leads Asheville in both rushing and receiving yards. He averages a team-best 6.7 yards per run and 15.4 per catch. Ellis ran for 1,426 yards in 2022. He was second behind Max Guest among MAC rushers. Ellis averaged 143 yards a game, 7.3 per carry. Nic Willams (5-8, 140 sr.) ran for 780 yards in 2022. Kaylen Hemphill (5-7, 140 so.) is another fast back.

When Radford wants to “pound” the ball, he can call the Plummer — Kyheem “Ky” Plummer (5-11, 180 jr.). “Kyheem is a bruiser, who’s electric in space,” Radford said. “Nic and others are fast, but can run you over.”

Up front again are LG Johnny Prinson (6-2, 220 sr.) and RG Johnny Katson (6-0, 200 jr.). Joining them are tackles J’von Howard (6-1, 220 sr.) and Judah Araujo (6-3, 240 so.), and center Aiden Briggs (5-10, 180 so.). “They’d rather die, than let you down,” Coach Radford said.

He said that new PK Seth Stein (5-9, 155 jr.) is reliable from 37 yards in.

Trademark is Defense

The vaunted AHS defense returns five starters. They include Rutgers-bound OLB-SS Noah Shaw (6-1, 195 sr.); also LB Zyrque Smith (5-11, 200 sr.) and ILB Juvea Smith (6-0, 197 jr.). Other linebackers include ILB Ben Bevans (5-11, 190 sr.) and OLBs Adam Wright (5-8, 140 so.) and Nihzaiah Mills (6-2, 166 jr.). “Our experienced linebackers get to the right spots.”

The D-line has back DT Eddero Elwel Pretrick (5-11, 201 sr.) and rotates Aljour Edgerton (6-1, 225 jr.), Trayson Akbar (6-0, 230 sr.), K.J. Williams (5-7, 170 so.), Shawnathan Davidson (5-9, 185 jr.), and DE-LB Brenton Handsford (6-0, 175 sr.).

DBs include C.J. Fleming (5-8, 170 sr.), Quavo Hayes (5-8, 140 jr.), Hayden Durham (5-7, 156 jr.), and Kendrick Robbs (5-6, 155 so.).

Coach Radford, a 2007 Reynolds grad, foresees another “dogfight” for the MAC title. LB Shaw said that since losing at Reynolds a year ago, he thinks “every day” about payback. The clash is at AHS this time, on Sept. 29. Many Cougars see that as decisive. Feisty Zyrique Smith vows that this time, “we’re the king of the mountain!”