East Rockingham’s powerful offense will reload for 2017

Donnie Coleman isn't brooding over the offensive weapons his East Rockingham football team no longer has at its disposal.

"I knew that was special and I enjoyed it while we had it, but now it's gone so you've got to move on quickly. No use sitting around and crying over it," Coleman said. "Better move quickly and get adjusted real quick to your kids.

"It was fun. It was a great ride, but now the next group's here and let's see what they can do."

This new batch of Eagles has quite a standard to match.

In 2016, all-state selections Jaylen McNair, Javon Butler and Logan Comer carried an explosive, quick-strike passing offense that took East Rock to its sixth consecutive postseason and its deepest playoff run, reaching the third round for the first time in the program's young history.

Butler hauled in 24 touchdowns and 1,323 receiving yards from McNair, who is now his teammate at Division II Glenville State, where the pair signed. McNair, the Shenandoah District and 2A East Region Offensive Player of the Year, tossed 44 touchdown passes to just six interceptions with 3,586 yards through the air. Comer, also an all-state kicker for ERHS, reeled in 95 catches totaling 1,304 yards.

"Those guys set the culture," ERHS junior Chandler Breeden said. "But we've got guys who are ready to step up in their situation and replace them."

Breeden figures to be one of East Rock's most vital players in 2017, as a starting linebacker and part of what he called a "three-headed monster" in the ERHS backfield along with juniors Prophecy Kisamore and J'wan Evans.

Who they'll be receiving handoffs from, however, is still to be determined as ERHS mulls who will take over behind center for McNair. Junior Dylan Williams and sophomore Tyce McNair, the standout's younger brother, are battling for the spot.

"Both of 'em are good quarterbacks and I'll go to war with either of them," Kisamore said.

For Coleman, it's difficult to evaluate the two options at signal-caller because the position's role in East Rock's offense is drastically different from a year ago.

"The whole show's not about them. It's about the whole 11 people on offense," Coleman said. "That's a little different than what we did last year."

The Eagles have also lost Chris Rogers, a two-way starter who had seven touchdown catches in 2016 as a junior and started three games at quarterback in 2015 while McNair was injured.

Rogers is a basketball standout at East Rockingham, and it wasn't much of a surprise to Coleman that the senior is focusing on hoops after the graduation of his close friends from last year's senior group.

"Great young man. He loves the game of basketball, which is fine," Coleman said. "We just had to move forward. We knew it was coming. We kind of treated him like a senior last year."

Junior receiver Darrias Brown is perhaps the Eagles' best overall athlete, Coleman said, and the coach expects contributions in the receiving game from juniors Tanner Kisling, Isaac Kisling and Griffin Morris, as well as running backs who can be spread out wide.

"We've committed more to the running game," Coleman said, describing the offense as a "Fling-T" — one that is Wing-T-based, but also runs the spread to utilize athletes in space. "Not saying we're going to run the ball all the time like the Shenandoah District, but we are going to commit to the running game with this group."

Breeden led the Eagles with seven rushing touchdowns last year, and Coleman believes ERHS has a "strong suit" with a deep backfield that includes sophomore Nathan Rodriguez, in addition to Kisamore and Evans, who had a pair of rushing scores apiece in 2016.

That collection will be behind an offensive line that is led by junior captain Logan Dofflemyer, plus returning starters Anthony Kee, a junior, and Peyton Lam, a senior. Juniors Jordan Good and Isom Whiteley will also be contributing to the line.

"They're tenacious up front," Breeden said. "They're mean and they're nasty. They're ready to go to work."

Coleman said the defensive line has received a "pleasant surprise" from Nathan Mitchell, a senior transfer from Florida. Senior Ivan Ritenour, a captain, will hold down the other defensive end spot, and Dofflemyer, Colton Dean and Zeb Bradley will also clash for the East Rock defensive line.

The linebacker crew — which is guided by new defensive coordinator Kyle Gillenwater, a former Division I assistant — includes Breeden, Rodriguez, sophomore Trenton Morris, sophomore Jamarcus Davis, junior Dustin Dove, and junior Blake Baylor, the son of ERHS principal Eric Baylor.

The secondary will be patrolled by Tanner Kisling, senior Alexander Bailey, senior Haden Morris and junior Taylor Spencer, with Kisamore also rotating in.

Bailey and Morris were the second- and third-leading tacklers, respectively, as East Rock yielded 27.2 points per game last year and allowed 34 points in a game six different times. But Coleman's optimistic that experience and the addition of Gillenwater will trigger a turnaround.

Breeden and Kisamore each smiled when asked about the intensity Gillenwater brings to practice every day, an intensity level Coleman said is hard to match.

"We all have respect for him," Breeden said. "He'll pick you up when you're down and talk to you when you mess up an assignment. He's a great coach and I'm glad we have him."

Gillenwater, a former Bridgewater College assistant and player who was on James Madison's staff for 15 years and spent the last two seasons as Furman's defensive coordinator, joined the ERHS staff in July.

Three of the Eagles' four captains are juniors and there are just seven seniors on the roster, but "young" is an excuse Coleman said they won't be using this fall.

"They love the game of football and they've done a really nice job out there, but the thing that they don't have is just experience," Coleman said. "I think we're going to be a good football team; it's just how quickly we can mature into a good football team."

Breeden suggested a similar prediction.

"I think we're going to have a great year, but we've got to take one game at a time and do our job every time, win our one-on-one battles and we'll be fine," Breeden said.

ERHS, looking to make the postseason for the seventh time in eight seasons of existence, opens 2017 at home Friday at 7 p.m. against Rockingham County rival Spotswood.

"Since Day 1, we've all been working hard," Kisamore said. "We got a culture here. We've been working hard all offseason, so we just keep that culture, keep working. It's been six years straight and we're looking to make it seven."

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