This is the sixth in a seven-part series breaking down the personnel in each area of the 2009 Bryant Hornets football team.
By Rob Patrick
Chances are, Chris Rycraw will not break the school record he set last year for rushing attempts (284) this season. He could still surpass his school record for yardage (1,514) or touchdowns (17) but he shouldn’t have to carry as much of the load with the return to health of senior quarterback Jimi Easterling, the development of his back-ups and the addition of a couple of other backs.
All of which may keep Rycraw a little fresher at the end of games and even more dangerous to the Bryant Hornets’ opponents.[more]
“We’re real pleased with all our skills guys,” acknowledged Bryant offensive coordinator and backs coach Dale Jones.
Of Rycraw, specifically, he added, “I don’t know if there are enough adjectives to describe the work ethic he brings, the football intelligence he brings. He is faster and stronger than he was last year when he broke all the school records. We’re very excited about what he’s going to do.”
No doubt, that’s news that might send a shudder down the spines of opposing defensive coordinators.
But here’s more: The Hornets have other weapons in the backfield.
“We’re also pretty excited about James Jones,” Coach Jones reported, referring to the 5-9, 220-pound senior transfer. “When he moved in, you could see he had a great-looking body. He had a good 40 time. We were excited about the potential. But you never know until you put the pads on. He put them on in the spring and he’s in a new system, new terminology, new run game, new coaches — it was all different for him.
“But, for the first time the other night (in the scrimmage against Pine Bluff), he got some game time against somebody other than us and, for the most part, he was pretty impressive,” Jones continued. “It took him a little while, maybe a quarter, to get used to playing tackle football again. But in the second quarter, James played pretty well. He made some good decisions, got up in there and ran hard. We’re excited about having a guy that can come in ready to go.”
Sophomore Jacob Powell (5-10, 165) rushed for almost 900 yards as a freshman.
“Jacob played pretty good in the scrimmage too,” noted the coach. “We feel like those three guys make us pretty solid at running back. Tyler Freshour and Jacob are going to play on Monday nights so all of our running backs should get plenty of reps.”
In years past, the Hornets utilized linebackers or linemen as fullbacks in short yardage situations. Though there will still be formations that include linemen in the backfield, a group of pure fullbacks, led by 6-9, 215-pound junior Marcus Harris, have been developed for blocking, running and use in the passing game.
“If you took a poll and asked the guys on the team who has worked as hard as anybody in the off-season, I don’t know if he’d be the No. 1 guy but he’d be very close,” Jones stated of Harris. “He’s worked extremely hard. Last year, he played a little tight end, a little bit of fullback. This year, early on, we decided he was our fullback. And he does not mind leading the way. He does not mind opening up a hole. And he knows when we go play-action, he’s usually out in a route and has a chance to catch a ball. He’s done everything we’ve asked him and we’re real pleased with him.
“His back-up is Jon Reed (5-9, 185, junior). It’s a new position for him too. He was on defense last year. Jon’s very smart and he’s learned a lot early on.
Easterling, stepping into the starting role in the fall last year, was putting together a pretty solid season as junior. He’d completed 64 of 109 passes with just two interceptions, picking up 748 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 221 yards on 37 tries. But an injury to his lower leg early in the Hornets’ game at Cabot ended his season in week 8 and it took him much of the off-season to get back to 100 percent.
He’ll be backed up by junior Blake Davidson (6-0, 165), who finished the Cabot game and started the next week last season before a hand injury sidelined him the rest of the way. Talented sophomore Dylan Cross (6-2, 190) led the freshman team to a conference championship and a 9-1 record. He completed 68 of 116 passes for 1,037 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions.Behind them are junior Chase Gibson (6-1, 220) and sophomore Kyler Boyle (5-7, 145).
“The quarterback situation is looking pretty good,” Jones stated. “We had some footwork issues and some decision issues in the scrimmage but those were fewer rather than greater. For the most part, the decision-making and the footwork looked pretty good. The next day, we were watching film and starting to work on getting some of that stuff corrected and it showed up in practice. I’ve been pretty pleased with them.
“Jimi’s the starter and Blake is right there behind him,” he continued. “Dylan’s the next guy. The other two guys are doing what we ask them to do, they’re just not ready yet. They’ve all gotten a lot better.
“I think our passing game is going to be dramatically improved just from the stability we have now at the quarterback position,” he emphasized. “The two things that Jimi is very, very good at is that he is an outstanding leader. He keeps charge of the huddle. He keeps everybody calm. The other thing is, he has experience. Blake has a little bit but when he got a chance last year, he got hurt pretty quick. Jimi’s got seven or eight games under his belt. He’s been tested in the fire. I think he’s going to have an outstanding year. And Blake’s going to get an opportunity. I think he’s going to step in there and do really well.”