Smashmouth Rockets ready to roll
The 2015 Forrest Rockets go down as one of the best teams ever in Chapel Hill, posting a 10-2 overall record and a 7-0 Region 4 mark that earned the Rockets its first region title in 29 years.
"It was 29 years since we won the last one and we don't want to wait that long again, we want to attack that goal now," first-year head coach Brent Johns said. "I'm honored to be here and humbled by the opportunity to follow in a lot of great guys' footsteps that have done this before me and I will continue to work hard and do the things we have done the last four years because it has worked and I don't see any reason why it won't work now."
Although a disappointing second round home playoff loss spoiled the season, last year's squad moved the benchmark up several notches for future teams to follow.
Graduating was almost an entire starting squad, including Class 2A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year Boone Sweeney, who anchored an offensive line that played together as a cohesive unit for three consecutive seasons.
The departure of head coach Matt Kriesky, who posted a two-year record of (17-6, 12-1 Region) was no surprise as he was rewarded for his hard work and success in Chapel Hill with the head coaching position at 5A Centennial High School in Franklin.
In at the head coaching position is home grown boy Brent Johns, who played for the Rockets and was Kriesky's offensive coordinator the last two years and one year under current Summitt head coach Brian Coleman's one-year stint at Forrest.
In 2015, the Rockets led the region in scoring with 427 points that averaged out to 36.4 points per game.
Although the offense lost some key players, the cupboard is full of skilled players, including the highly recruited tight end/running back Slayton Wild, who rushed for 768 yards and seven touchdowns last season, while catching six passes and scored once.
Wild also had a kickoff and fumble return for a touchdown in the same game at East Robertson, while picking up 34 tackles during the season and one sack.
Wild, who is entertaining offers from the Citadel, Furman, VMI, Wofford and Mercer said about the Rockets, "I have five good guys working hard in front of me and that's why we are so successful. I feel like I have a lot to offer athletic wise and I can do a lot of different things on offense and defense. We are on the road to success and we are going to get there soon, it's just going to take some more hard work and dedication. We have some more time to prepare and that's what we are going to do."
Joining Wild in the backfield is fellow senior Jacob Jones, who rushed for 399 yards and six touchdowns, while scoring one TD through the air.
"Whenever coach 'K' left he told us we play smash-mouth football, we run the ball down their throat, over and over and over," Jones said "But we also have a lot of good plays for big play homeruns that will work ninety percent of the time.
Forrest has a stable of very capable and skilled Rocket runners in Scrappy Osborne (158 yards, 3TD), Bryton Spitzley (133 yards, 3TD), Troy Turner (203 yards, 2TD) and Austin Porter (18 yards, TD), Eagleville transfer Parker Stuard, and elusive speedster Dylan Pendley, who is looking to have a breakout season in 2016.
Two other running backs to watch this season are freshman standout Nick McClendon, who rushed for 1,046 yards and 22 TD for FMS last season and sophomore Wes McCoy, who put up almost 1,100 yards and 12 TD as an eighth-grader for FMS before sitting out last season with an injury.
The receiving corps is led by Michael Dyer and Anthony Kritz with Wild, Jones and tight ends Billy Clanton, William Rorabaugh and the also watch for senior baseball standout Jonathan Lykins, who is taking his first crack at football.
Freshmen Blaize Sweeney, Cole Villazon and Spencer McCown, juniors Austin Porter and Josh Brown and sophomore Justin Leonard round out the majority of the skilled position players for the Rockets.
Another surprise at camp this summer, spring and fall is senior Luke Cunningham, who could be a secret weapon.
Javier Rios is back for his final season as kicker and he is a good one, making one-of-two field goals, while drilling 45-of-51 PAT attempts and he booted five touchbacks in the opposing end zone.
"He has been our starting kicker for three years now, he has had a great summer and he has had a great fall camp so far and his leg strength has increased tremendously with his work in the weight room," Johns said. "Javier was all we had last year, but this year we have a freshman Dalton Colvin, whose leg right now is as big and strong as Javier, but he just doesn't have the experience Javier has."
Jones will continue with the punting duties for the Rockets as he averaged 34.4 yards per punt and knocked dead five punts inside the 20-yard line in 2015.
"We felt like last season, our first 11 games we won the special teams and nobody was close to where we were," Johns said. "But, boom Marion County shows up and they were light years ahead of us in the special teams, so we have committed this off-season to get to the level of the Marion County special teams that we felt was the big difference between us and them. We want to close that gap or go past them."
The quarterback positon is going to be a hard one to fill as David Andrews put up solid numbers behind center last year with 369 yards passing and six touchdowns and he rushed for 141 yards and two scores.
Junior Layton Bennett has the upper hand so far, but closing in is sophomore Josh Meglis and third-stringer Joel Burton.
None of the three threw a pass last season for the varsity squad.
Replacing one of the best offensive lines in Forrest history will ultimately be the toughest job and the key to another successful season in Chapel Hill and the young group seems to be poised and ready to go.
"We are young up front, everybody that we are playing up front did not play last year except for (Nathan) Trout," Stacey said. I've been telling them we have to learn to play as a nickel, not five pennies. That just takes time to learn to play together and learning what the guy next to you is going to do, but these guys are working extremely hard and have a lot of fight in them. I think this group has an extremely good work ethic and they want to learn what to do in certain situations.
"We have a philosophy and coach Johns preaches that philosophy on offense that we are going to smash you in the mouth and I like that philosophy. We are going to makes some mistakes because we are young, but when we make those mistakes, it has to be at full speed."
A battle for the center position is developing in camp between Billy Perryman and Mac Ridley, the guard spots are being fought for by Carter Housch and Dillon Kidd with the tackle spots pretty well set with Josh "Tank" Hill and Nathan Trout.
"We are bigger and stronger up front, these are the guys that have been the scout guys, the guys that came in for mop up duty in some of our wins last year, and the guys that have been in the weight room for three years. They just don't have the experience of a Watertown game or a Marion County game that we need to take that next step," Johns said. "We are going to run behind those big guys, we are going to run downhill, establish the run and then raise up and throw to someone on those plays that will open because of establishing that run."
Old man Rocket Kyle Stacey is Johns' go to guy as Stacey was the architect behind the dominant line play by the Rockets the last several years and the former Chapel Hill head coach is on the boys once again in practice, mixing up another quality group of front line players.
"He is the one that I go to," Johns said. He has seen everything, he was the coach here for 10 years and has seen all the situations that pop up, good and bad. He is the one I go to ask for advice all the time."
New to the coaching staff this season is a pair of Forrest alums in Colin Henson and Matthew Delk, who are tag-teaming the work with both the wide receivers and the defensive backs.
"The two new guys are bringing a ton of energy and new ideas," Johns said. "Every task that I have thrown at them so far, they have jumped on it with a great attitude and I have just loved it."
Johns' defense will be run by Eli Stephenson, who tutored under Kriesky and is more than ready and capable of making sure one of the region's top defense units remains in a mode of consistency.
"I look forward to the task put upon me, I got some hard shoes to fill, coach Kriesky did a great job," Stephenson said. "I'm just here trying to do the same thing and try to make it better."
On the defensive line is senior nose guard Garrett Nevison, junior Josh Hill, Lykins, and freshman Tate Garvin.
Forrest linebackers are the key to the great success of the past and the leader in the group and probably the entire defense is senior Billy Clanton, who Stephenson calls "A tackling machine."
Clanton is a shoo-in all-region linebacker and sets the tone with his aggressiveness and hard-nosed style of defense that is the epitome of Forrest football.
"We are ready for it to come, we lost a lot of good players last year, but we have more good ones to take their place," Clanton said. "The players from the past taught me how to play football...hit them in the mouth and set the tone, nobody has ever ran me over and I don't intend to be."
Wild is also at linebacker with Jones, Turner and McClendon.
In the defensive backfield are senior corners Dyer and Anthony Kritz, who had two interceptions last season and is another player who likes to mix it up.
"Our defensive backfield is getting better every day, coach Delk and Henson are working us really good and everyone is getting to show their skills, they are just two good coaches," Kritz said. "We are definitely getting better each day, just working and working and working and we will be a smash-mouth football team."
Other players to watch in the secondary are McCoy at free safety, plus Pendley, Villazon and Parker Stuard.
"Coach Kriesky was the heart and soul of the defense and they were fiery because of him." Johns said. "Fortunately coach Stephenson had two years to learn from him, learn how to make the calls, learn how to run a defensive practice and he learned how to prepare on Saturdays with the defensive game plan. I feel he can take the defensive to the next level this year and I feel good about him and trust him."
The Rockets open the season in throwback fashion, hosting a pair of old Duck River Valley Conferences foes Huntland and Moore County in back-to-back weeks.
"That's the two games that if you ask the old DRVC guys around here, that's the only two games on the schedule and two most important games," Johns said. "We will just treat it like 1969-1970 when Huntland and Lynchburg rolled in here just like the old days. We want to win and we want to win those two games for the old guys."
After those two tough contests, the Rockets back their bags and go on a three-game road trip, opening up region play at Westmoreland, followed by a trip to the always tough Page Patriots and finally the Rockets travel to Unionville to battle the Vikings on September 16 in the first of six consecutive region games to finish the season.
On September 23 Cascade comes to town, followed by Watertown and East Robertson before Forrest finishes the season with back-to-back away contests at Eagleville and Jackson County.
If Forrest can come through the first five games with one loss and stay healthy through the Cascade game, the biggest test will probably be a Watertown squad that will have an overly sour taste in their mouth after the Rockets took control of the region last year with a huge 30-20 win.
The home field advantage should be enough for a repeat and after East Robertson at home, anything can happen at Eagleville.
The longest road trip of the season is to Jackson County where the Rockets should win and end the season with another 10-2 record.
Head Coach-Brent Johns, First Season
Eli Stephenson-Defensive Coordinator
Kyle Stacey-Line Coach
Matthew Delk-Defensive backs, receivers
Colin Henson-Defensive backs, receivers
2015-2016 Record- 10-2, 7-0 Region
August 19 Huntland Home
August 26 Moore County Home
September 2 Westmoreland Away
September 9 Page Away
September 16 Community Away
September 23 Cascade Home
September 30 Watertown Home
October 7 East Robertson Home
October 14 Bye
October 21 Eagleville Away
October 28 Jackson County Away
1 Spence Oliver Freshman
2 Josh Meglis Sophomore
3 Cole Villazon Freshman
4 Dylan Pendley Junior
6 Mick McClendon Freshman
7 Layton Bennett Junior
9 Spencer McCown Freshman
10 Austin Porter Junior
12 Joel Burton Freshman
13 Wes McCoy Sophomore
14 Blaize Sweeney Freshman
15 Jonathan Lykins Senior
16 Billy Clanton Senior
17 Michael Dyer Senior
18 Anthony Kritz Senior
19 Justin Leonard Sophomore
20 Gauge Anderson Sophomore
21 Jacob Jones Senior
22 Parker Stuard Junior
23 Luke Cunningham Senior
24 William Rorabaugh Senior
25 Troy Turner Junior
26 Alex Patmore Sophomore
27 Cody Bluthardt Junior
28 Garrett Nevison Senior
29 Spencer Gray Senior
30 Scrappy Osborne Junior
33 Gavin Adams Senior
34 Bryton Spitzley Junior
36 Kagan Warren Senior
38 Sean Higgins Senior
42 Dalton Colvin Freshman
43 Colby Faulkenberry Freshman
45 Nick McQuaid Freshman
50 Carter Housch Sophomore
51 Mason Walls Freshman
52 Alex Allen Freshman
54 Austin Geetings Junior
55 Billy Perryman Sophomore
56 Jacob Wright Sophomore
60 Mason Brymer Freshman
62 Tate Garvin Freshman
63 Chris Pimental Freshman
64 Zach Russell Senior
65 Trent Phillips Freshman
66 Dillon Kidd Junior
67 Mac Ridley Junior
68 Hank Eddins Senior
70 Ryan Dyer Freshman
71 Nathan Trout Junior
72 Anton Overstreet Freshman
75 Jayme Ozburn Sophomore
76 Kody Patin Freshman
77 Dowlen Hosford Sophomore
78 Sammy Williams Freshman
79 Josh Hill Junior
84 Lofton Yeager Freshman
86 Javier Rios Senior
87 Josh Brown Junior
88 Pryor Haines Sophomore