Maroon Devils season opens at home Friday

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Swain County High School’s Maroon Devils varsity football team always sets the bar high—win conference and build to a state championship run. The 2017 season goals are the same, and if the team continues to put in the hard work and dedication they have now, those goals are achievable as the season develops.

“We have a good mix of players. We have some older players and younger sophomores and juniors, and we have a lot playing in new places so we’re kind of young in a lot places,” said head coach Neil Blankenship. “I think if we can stay healthy and can keep things moving, we can be a real good football team by the end of the year.”

Swain ranks behind defending conference champs Murphy in the Carolina Gridiron preseason Top 15 polls. Murphy is ranked at 2 and Swain at 8 and Cherokee at 11. 

Maxpreps.com ranks Swain County 10th in the state in 1A in the preseason.

The season will open Friday night at home against the Tuscola Mountaineers. 

On Friday, Aug. 11, the Maroon Devils traveled to Pisgah for a scrimmage against the Pisgah Black Bears. Much of the game was played in the pouring rain. No scores are kept for scrimmage games, but Blankenship said he was pleased with the team’s performance and the intensity and enthusiasm they showed on the field. 

“When you come back and watch the film, you find things you need to work on. I was pleased with our pass blocking,” Blankenship said. “I feel like our run blocking needs to get a lot better. The running backs did well with pass protection, but we’ve got to get their shoulders lower, I feel like we played a little high.”

The Devils return with some strong senior leadership. Quarterback Brodie Bowman, who started all 13 games for the Devils returns. In the 2016 season, he completed 87-161 passes for 1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Receivers and seniors Seth Parker and Brier Younce also return as starters. Last season, Parker finished with 29 for 679 receiving yards and seven touchdowns and Younce had 31 catches for 507 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Up front, the Maroon Devils have stronghold senior Will Paul returning, as well as seniors Wren Gunter and Ice Littlejohn, who play both ways. Last year, Gunter collected 104 total tackles and Paul followed at 64 tackles.  

Another weapon for the team is kicker senior Holden Petty, who finished 41-44 on PATs and 4-7 on field goals last season. 

Other seniors on the 2017 Maroon Devils team are Keshaun Beaner, Dylan McLeod, Parton Tanor, Tanner Wiggins, Cameron Baines, Jordan Watty, Leason Mashburn, Logan Loftis, Trey Spates, Nic Thompson, and Jace Wiggins. 

The team finished the 2016 second in conference and earned a first round playoff win, but gains didn’t happen until later in the season—something Blankenship hopes to change this season. Last year’s team began the year 0-5 but finished 6-7 (5-1). 

Much of the Devils’ practices are still focused on building fundamental skills of the game since many are playing in new positions and there is a mix of young and older players, but Blankenship said he’s seeing good things.

“I think the team is really working hard,” he said. “Practices have been pretty competitive, I like that and I like where we’re headed. We’ve got to stay that way, and we need to trust each other better in our techniques. I think that happens with time when you have a team of mixed classes they have to gel together.”

Again this year, the schedule starts out tough opening with a home game this Friday, Aug. 18 against the Tuscola Mountaineers. Out of conference games continue for the next three games— as they go up against larger schools. 

“I want us to get some wins out of these first games because it helps in our playoff seeding and gives our kids confidence, and I think that’s what we have to do,” Blankenship said. “We can’t be satisfied with losing to these teams. We have to do better against these team than we did last year.”

The season opener against Tuscola will give the team an opportunity to see how they compete against a larger school where most of the linemen aren’t going both ways. Blankenship said the Devils will have to go into the game with a higher level of conditioning and be mentally tough. 

He added Tuscola looks good in its scrimmage games, and the Devils can’t allow them to run big plays. 

“Tuscola is an outstanding football team,” he said. “They’ve got some speed on the wings. They run a broken bone triple option, and they’ve got a lot of speed. We need to control a good quarterback.” 

Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m. at the Swain County High School Boyce Dietz Football Stadium. This Friday’s game will include youth league recognition. 

A punt-and-pass competition for 8-13 year olds for $5 will be at 6 p.m. with registration begininnig at 5:30 p.m.

Smoky Mountain Times

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