Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series about the 2011 Bryant Hornets football team in advance of the season opener against Benton on Friday, Sept. 2.
By Rob Patrick
Invariably it seems, the years that a high school football team has returning starters in the[more] trenches, the skill players are inexperienced. And, conversely, when the team has skill people back, there’s a group of unproven guys inside.
Now inexperience, per se, doesn’t preclude success but, going into a season, it’s those proven players that ease the anxieties of a coaching staff and give the fans hope.
For the 2011 Bryant Hornets’ coaches and fans, those guys include senior wide receivers Dillon ‘Weezy’ Winfrey (5-8, 146) and Sawyer Nichols (5-9, 150).
It’s those guys, along with quarterback Hayden Lessenberry, that helped make the decision to transition back to the spread offense not only logical but far easier make. It also helped that the team had several other promising receivers and versatile running backs to deploy.
“‘Weezy’ obviously brings speed, quickness,” noted Hornets receivers coach Jason Hay, regarding Winfrey who has been a member of a Class 7A State champion 4×100 relay team for the Bryant track squad. “Sawyer runs very good routes, has great hands. Both of them have been in the system long enough to know.”
With the team running a pro-I primarily last year, Nichols led the team with 33 receptions, 586 yards and three touchdowns. Winfrey, who played a lot on defense last season, was second with 21 catches for 287 yards and three scores.
They’ll both be playing in the secondary and returning punts this season.
“You wish you had about four of them,” Hay said. “They’re having to play so much and that’s good in ways but it’s also a disadvantage when other teams are going to be fresher. So we’ve got to find a way to get them breaks so we’re looking for somebody to step up on the outside just to give them three or four plays here and there.
Fortunately, said the coach, “It’s the first year we’ve had this much depth overall.”
That includes seniors Charles Henson (5-9, 155) and Karon Dismuke (5-9, 180) along with juniors Hayden Daniel (5-7, 140), Ben Clark (6-1, 215), Aaron Bell (5-9, 144), Jalen Bell (5-7, 155), Austin Powell (5-9, 150) and Devon Sears (6-2, 167). Dismuke, Jalen Bell and Clark are all running backs as well.
Daniel played enough to make five catches for 41 yards last season. Jalen Bell, mostly on screens, picked up 57 yards on four receptions.
“Charles looks to get some time at C,” Hay said. “He was playing running back this time last year. He’s come a long way in the off-season. Hayden’s looking to play a lot of A this year. He wasn’t ever healthy last year. He’s done a good job for us.
“Ben looks like a linebacker out there playing receiver so we look to have him out there being physical,” the coach continued. “Jalen and Karon will get some time at inside slot receiver. Austin and Devon played a lot during 7-on-7 this summer but they’ve been hurt, little nagging injuries. Hopefully we’ll get them back pretty soon.
“Aaron Bell, we’ve taken him on the offensive side some to help because Sawyer and Winfrey are on special teams and defense too,” Hay mentioned. “Greyson Giles is a sophomore that may have a chance to come in there and spot play to give ‘Weezy’ and Saw a break too.”
The spread not only features the passing game but alters it from what the Hornets have been using in the past.
“We’re doing a lot of quick game,” Hay explained. “Last year, we were run first, pass when we had to and, if the pass wasn’t working then we’d just start running it because we had a big line and we could go with it. Well, this year, our line is a lot faster but they’re not as big and we’re not going to have that choice. We’re going to have to pass and when the run’s not working we may have to pass a little bit more.
“So, a lot more of the responsibility falls on them,” he said of the receivers. “Last year, we had some deep balls on play-action. This year, it may be more throws, fewer yards because it’s a lot more three-step, five-yard quick outs and stuff like that. So it puts a lot more pressure on reading defenses because (last year) everybody would stack the box to stop the run and now they’re going to start spreading everybody out.
“It’s a lot more mentally, I think, than anything on those guys,” Hay concluded. “There are a lot of adjustments we haven’t had a whole lot of in our passing game. In order to be a good passing team, you’ve got to be able to run screens so that puts a lot more blocking responsibilities on them, especially like on Charles and those guys playing inside receiver, having to block a linebacker. But I think, especially the upperclassmen, they have the ability to get it done.”