Retooling at Brookstone is different than at a lot of schools. A lot of schools lose talent and suffer a dropoff the following season, whereas the Cougars find ways to maintain their success.
Since 2003, Brookstone has won at least seven games every season and missed the playoffs just once in 2010 despite a 7-3 record. That should be evidence enough that no matter what the Cougars lost in talent after the 2012 season, expectations should remain lofty.
With all that said, the team did lose a couple of key players who will be difficult to replace.
There was quarterback Duncan Fletcher, who passed for more than 2,000 yards and accounted for 28 touchdowns. Do-it-all athlete Madison McCluskey rushed for 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, caught 318 yards and seven touchdowns and was the team’s leading tackler on defense. Wide receiver Drew Lingo, an All-Bi-City second-team selection, also graduated.
Coach Brad Dehem said, however, that losing players is a product of the game and shouldn’t be taken as a reason to expect less.
“This point of the year, every year, it takes some time to get guys on the same page when you’ve lost so many starters,” he said. “But you get new personnel and the team kind of takes on a flavor of its own. We’re trying to figure out who we are, what we’re good at. It won’t be last year’s team, but I think we do some things better than we did last year.”
New (old) quarterback Miller Page will fill the void left by Fletcher under center. While Page played wide receiver a year ago, he did play quarterback early in his time at Brookstone and said it’s just a matter of getting used to the reads and the timing.
“It’s coming along,” he said. “I played quarterback my first two years, so that wasn’t a problem. It’s just picking up the offense, the run plays, going through the reads and just getting used to everything.”
Dehem said the fact that Page was a senior, had played wide receiver and free safety, as a result knowing routes and coverages, was a major factor in him winning the job over his competition at the position.
Page’s main targets in the passing game will be receivers Leye Olubowale, Mark McVay and Grant Davidson. Junior Jensen Price will play tight end. Olubowale and McVay each tallied more than 200 receiving yards in 2012.
Jack Raines and Sam Ndem will play running back, filling the hole vacated by McCluskey. Neither got a ton of work in the running game last season, but Dehem said he’s confident in their abilities.
The coach acknowledged there would be a lot of new faces on the offensive line, but the unit does return senior tackle Nick Sargent.
“He’ll be an anchor for us,” Dehem said of Sargent.
The unit will also feature tackle Parker James, guards Phillip Hamrick and Tripp Valentini, and center Andrew Hamrick.
“We have a lot of new faces, and it may take some time, but we’ve got a lot of good guys on that side of the ball,” Dehem said.
The defense is where the team may make its money early in the season. A year ago when the offense learned a new system, the defense did its job keeping the Cougars in some games early in the season. Despite losing to both Wesleyan and Dooly County, the defense allowed just 12 points per game in the two contests. The offense came around, but credit went to the defense for getting the season started well.
There’s a possibility this season takes a similar tone, Dehem said.
It returns a lot of experience with six starters back, including Page who notched 51 tackles and three interceptions in 2012.
James, Sargent and Hamrick will play up front, followed by Raines, A.C. Chancellor, Markus Wright and Stephen Poydasheff at linebacker. Wright and Poydasheff each had 42 tackles last season.
McVay, Prather Hudson and Kordell Braxton will join Page in the secondary.
“Our identity is probably the fact that we’re just going to get after the ball,” Dehem said to describe his defense. “Did that last year, and it kept us in some close low-scoring games. I feel like it may be that way again early on while we figure out who we are on offense.”
Roster size is up to 68 for Brookstone, and there are new faces in every class, Dehem said.
“That’s a feeling I’ve never had,” he added.
That alone is a reason for optimism despite losing the majority of its offensive yards from 2012. Consider the program’s history, and the expectation has to remain region championship and playoff contention.
“I like that expectation,” Dehem said. “I want people to expect us to compete for a region championship, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t my expectation. I want the kids to feel like they can do that, and I think they do.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.