Stags’ focus on moving forward
The Berkeley Stags have their eye on the prize.
After winning their fifth state championship in 2009, the Stags want another taste at the title, and in 2012, Coach Jeff Cruce believes his team has the makings of a potential state champion.
“It's not just these kids in high school,” he said. “The talent here goes all the way down into middle school. I see the possible beginning of a six or seven year run where we're in the hunt for a state championship.”
But these Stags took their lumps last year.
Coming off their first losing season in 19 years, the Stags are a year older, a year more experienced and hopefully much improved from the 4-7 record that followed Cruce to Berkeley.
“We've had a great summer. The kids have worked hard. We definitely aren't sophomores anymore.”
The Stags have that hungry look in their eyes.
“The kids realize 4-7 is not acceptable at a Berkeley program,” Cruce said. “We were young and made young mistakes. This year you just see that mentality in them. Our practices have been great. Very positive, very spirited and very focused. We're growing from the experience and moving forward.”
Cruce said one plus of his team this year has been depth.
“We have a lot of kids to insert into different positions. There are some fine athletes here who can play.”
Matt Harkness returns under center as the starter going into the season opener against Stratford but the competition between Harkness and Connor Teague has continued through pre-season practice and scrimmages leading up to the season opener.
“Matt Harkness has separated himself as the quarterback,” Cruce said. “They're still in the competition, but his reads are better. These young kids are growing up.”
On the offensive line Cruce points to John Bellamy who at 6'3” and pushing 300 pounds is turning into a legitimate D1 prospect.
“He's got great size and great speed,” Cruce said.
Bellamy joins a sizable line that includes Sterling Fiddie at center and TJ Griffin.
“We've got some good kids coming back. Cleveland Singleton is back as is Kendrick Wilson and Devonta White is at tight end.”
On the defensive line Cyrus Pinckney and Jewuan Jefferson are a pair of bookends to lead the pass rush. Josh Simmons anchors the linebacking corps and Branden Williams moves to the defensive backfield at safety.
“I feel like I have two of the best defensive ends around,” Cruce said. “Jefferson and Pinckney can stop an offense.”
A deep backfield gives Cruce what he calls, “the best group of running backs I've ever had.”
Ezekiel Jenkins and Josh Sellers have stepped it up over the summer, both having great speed and real toughness according to Cruce. Devin Butler returns to pound out the short yardage situations.
“Our receivers have some of the best talent we've had,” Cruce said. “Dylan Baker runs some good routes along with Asanti Dantzler. Dee Harley has been really athletic.”
Cruce said this year's edition of the Stags has some of the deepest talent Cruce has seen over his 25 years on the sidelines.
“We have the potential to be really, good if we all live up to our abilities and potential,” he said. “This year we're starting the Hall of Fame and they've seen the past and what's come before them, and they know they're the future.”
Cruce said his team needs to focus on getting better every day.
“If we do that we've a real chance of being good.”