School: Shaw High
2013 record: 4-6
Key players: Austin Hester, David Whitehead, Quinard Thomas, Holten Shea
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Key game: at LaGrange, Oct. 24
Outlook: The project that coach Kyle Adkins took over two seasons ago isn’t close to completion. There have been signs of success, like the 6-5 season in 2012, and signs of regression, like last year’s 4-6.
The fact is, though, that this team is closer to being very good than to the alternative.
The Raiders left arguably the toughest region in Class AAAA and joined a more manageable set of competitors in Region 1-AAAAA this year, a region that is heavy at the top with Carver and Harris County but wide open for the third and fourth playoff spots.
With that in mind, playoffs should without doubt be the expectation for Shaw this season.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing some new teams and the opportunity to have some exposure against teams we’re not used to seeing,” Adkins said.
Shaw will return 14 starters, seven on each side of the ball, and a pair of three-year starters on the offensive line. Austin Hester, a future Division-I recruit with offers from East Carolina and Cincinnati, is a rising junior who started both as a freshman and sophomore. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he is the anchor of the unit and one reason the Raiders will be able to win so many battles up front. Holten Shea played center the past two seasons, but will likely move to guard to create some depth on the line.
“That’s always a concern at every level, just having enough players to play on the offensive and defensive lines,” Adkins said. “That’s why we run what we run offensively and why we do what we do defensively, simply because you just don’t have 40 offensive and defensive linemen during the year.”
The skill positions are less settled than the line, with a pair of players pushing for the starting quarterback position.
Caleb Bishop is a rising senior and B.J. Knight a rising junior. Neither started at the position last year, so the team will have its third starter in the past three years.
Adkins said that one player has begun to separate himself at the position, but declined to say who.
“It is (still a battle),” Adkins said. “One kid is beginning to put himself out there a little bit more. Everyone in the program knows the battle is going to be solved on the field. The great part about it is both of them are real big team guys, so if they’re not the starting quarterback, they’re going to play some where and get a significant amount of playing time somewhere else.”
Whoever takes over will once again be running a quick-paced spread offense. Adkins doesn’t like the clock to run much between plays. He wants his team to be the aggressor.
“We try to get the ball out quick and keep the quarterback from getting dirty,” he said. “Nick Saban would probably have a problem with what we do. We try to snap it quickly.”
Defensively, the Raiders are strong in the backfield, led by David Whitehead and Quinard Thomas.
Adkins and his players will say they are undoubtedly shooting for the top spot in the region this season, just like the rest of the teams in the region. In reality, they may be a step below both Carver and Harris County, but are certainly a threat for the postseason.
The Raiders will play a tough final three games this season against Carver, LaGrange and Harris County. It will be important for them to earn wins in their first three region games against Northside, Hardaway and Columbus to put themselves in good position down the stretch.