Twelve games in a football season are enough to make most coaches happy.
The majority of teams in the state settle for 10, falling short of postseason play that would give them a chance at showing their ability against the very best in the state. And maybe Marion County coach Mike Swaney is happy his team has played 12 times in each of the past three seasons, winning one playoff game in each, but that doesn’t mean he and the rest of the Eagles aren’t searching for more.
In only seven years as a varsity program, Marion County has compiled just one losing record, improving its win total in every season until it dropped to nine from 11 in 2012.
A team that has displayed such consistent success expects that level of success to continue. But Swaney knows there are issues to be addressed to make that a reality this season.
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The unit returns only four starters from a year ago. It must replace a two-year starter at quarterback, three key offensive linemen and a key running back. Not an easy task, to say the least.
Still, Swaney said those who have needed to step up have so far in practice.
“Johnny Royal has stepped up at running back,” he said. “Dustin Eckert is a junior at quarterback, and he’s come along really well. Trae Swanson and Lorenzo Smothers have looked good, also.”
Those last two play wide receiver, giving the Eagles a solid foundation at the skill positions. Jomar Arce and A.J. Martinez will also play receiver, and Swaney said that unit has been one of the real bright spots so far.
“They’ve caught the ball well,” Swaney said of the receivers. “They haven’t had many drops. They’ve been concentrating, working hard. We feel like we can throw the ball just for the fact that if they get their hands on it, they’re going to catch it.”
Daryl Ragland will play tight end and will also get opportunities in the passing game.
The biggest area of concern following last season was the offensive line and how the Eagles would be able to replace three starters.
The unit will be comprised of tackles Thomas Hadley and Tre Smith, guards Lonnie Taylor and Michael Tyler and center Dustin Pickren.
Swaney said the players have learned and progressed well, the unit just simply doesn’t have the same depth it had in the past. One player will even play both ways this year, something the team hasn’t had to do for three years.
While the defense lost a couple of key guys, including an all-state defensive tackle in DeQueszman Kelley, Swaney still put its progress ahead of the offense.
He singled out the linebacker corps as an area of strength. It will be filled by three seniors, Brandon Green, Terrance Riley and Jaquie Gorman. Daryl Ragland, Quantez Freeman, Cameron Cox and Roderick Bishop will play up front. Three of the four, with the exception of Cox, are seniors.
Corey Johnson and Jacob Dixon will play safety, and Shavon Harris and Smothers will play cornerback. Of those four, all but Smothers are seniors, also.
The unit allowed just 16.8 points per game last year, most of which came in losses to Brookstone and Wilcox County.
Marion County’s success could come down to how quickly the offensive line adjusts with its new starters. The defense appears to be solid once again, and the skill positions are positions of strength, according to Swaney.
On paper, 12 games, a trip to the state quarterfinals, should be an expectation. More than that is a possibility if the new starters on offense learn and adjust quickly on the fly.
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