Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Devils wary of McClellan

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville is coming off its best game so far this season after beating Helena-West Helena Central 35-0 last Friday, and the Red Devils prepare to take on Little Rock McClellan this week on the road. The Lions are 0-4 and suffered a big loss to Mills last Friday in their league opener.

Red Devil coach Rick Russell isn’t expecting a letdown from his squad after seeing the talent on the Lions’ roster.

“They have the fastest kid in the city of Little Rock,” Russell said of quarterback Ackee Johnson, who has 4.3 speed. “They have a big offensive line, good speed at wide receiver. If we go in there thinking we’re just playing an 0-4 team and take it easy, and it ends up 7-7 going into the fourth quarter, we’ve got problems. We want to try to get on them and get on them early. We want to play our best football game.”

To do that, the Red Devils will have to contain Johnson, who plays multiple positions for McClellan. The Lions also have speed at other positions, and keeping that speed bottled up is Jacksonville’s task this week.

“We have to make sure we have proper depth in our coverage because they can be explosive,” Russell said. “We have to play assignment football and make sure we eliminate mistakes. They have a bunch of good athletes and when they get it all working together they’re going to be a dangerous football team. We hope it doesn’t happen this Friday night.”

McClellan truly runs a multiple offense. Other coaches say their offense is multiple, but the Lions will line up in anything from the spread with four wide to one side, to a full house backfield in some for of the T formation.

“Every formation you can imagine they’ll get into on offense,” Russell said. “That’s a lot to have to prepare for and that’s why we have to be fundamentally sound.”

Russell’s own team has made great improvements since week one and progressively improved each week. Nowhere are the improvements more obvious than on special teams. Sophomore John Herrmann went 5 for 5 on extra points last week and sophomore Zach Watkins has improved greatly as the replacement deep snapper.

“We were scratching our heads early on about what we’re going to do with our kicking game,” Russell said. “Those two sophomores have worked extremely hard and are continuing to get better and better. Robert Harris (lost for the season with an injury in the red-white game) was our deep snapper. When we lost him we were in a bind. But Zach has stepped up for us and worked very hard.”

Standout senior Kevin Richardson turned in perhaps the best performance in the state last Friday. He scored four touchdowns – two receiving, one rushing and one defensive. He finished with five catches for 100 yards, had two interceptions and his one play at quarterback turned into an 11-yard touchdown run.

“We are so proud of Kevin,” Russell said. “With Aaron (quarterback Aaron Smith) being out, he competed like a champion. He has one of the best return averages in the state. He’s averaging well over 30 yards per kickoff return.”

Jacksonville should have everyone healthy for the McClellan game. Russell says Smith is probable. Offensive lineman Justin Hamilton also missed last week’s game but should also be back this week. Tyler Skeet, who has been out since August, could play his first game this week as well.

“Besides the typical bumps and bruises, we’re looking pretty good with injuries,” Russell said.