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New cast allows Spartans to move on from winless 2011 season

Posted: August 28, 2012 3:25 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2012 5:00 a.m.

When you are coming off a winless season, it is good to have a short memory.
It is even better when you have no memory of it at all.
That is the bad news/good news/bad news scenario which is unfolding at football practice at the Camden Military Academy.
The Spartans are coming off a winless 2011 campaign but have less than a handful of players returning from that squad. Therein lies the rub for Will Rice and his coaching staff; they have less than two weeks of practice to try and get all their players on the same page for Saturday’s season opener with the New Covenant Christian School out of Charlotte.
While Rice would like to try and forget about his team’s struggles last fall, the influx of new blood is allowing him to start with a clean slate.
“It’s a fresh start,” Rice said of his revamped roster. “Guys are wanting to show what they can do. They have a new perspective. Overall, I’m pleased with the attitude of everybody.”
Monday marked the third day in pads and the start of the second week of pre-season practice for CMA, which opens its season a week earlier than in past season. It has led Rice and company to trying to get as much teaching in as they can in a relatively small window of time.
Considering the time constraints and other obstacles thrown in their path, the Spartans are making headway on the practice field.
“It’s going good, considering the limited amount of practice time that we’ve had,” Rice said of the first handful of workouts. “It’s a work in progress. We see some glimmers of hope, but it’s so early; we’re finding ourselves as we go along.”
The CMA staff, which welcomed back assistant coaches Speedy Johnson and Dave Roberts --- who did not coach last season --- along with a newcomer in former Camden High assistant Jeff Jordan, have a major reconstruction job on their hands with only three returnees to the program.
Defensively, the Spartans will be operating out of the 4-4 scheme. Offensive coordinator Griff Beckham and assistant Danny Robinson will return to the pro set, which the team went to and found success with starting with the 2010 campaign.
With a limited amount of players, many Spartans will be asked to play on both sides of the football this season which could prove troublesome, especially should the weather turn hot in the early season games.
As for the offense, sophomore Ricky Thornley, who played junior varsity ball at Berkeley High School last season, has the leg up at quarterback. Expected to line up behind him are 6-foot-2 speedster Tim Coleman and Anj Gadgji, a Baltimore resident by way of the Ivory Coast. Together, that trio makes up a solid backfield. “The running game hasn’t looked too bad, so far,” Rice said.
On the end, CMA will have wide outs Greg Dekanski and returnee Cody Owens, who started in the secondary for CMA last season and will anchor the defensive backfield again this season.
The offensive line is playing a game of “getting to know you” with the entire unit being new to the program. There is some size and talent there, but there are also several players who will get their first taste of varsity level competition come Saturday. One player who has tested the varsity waters at CMA is center Adrian Blaylock, who will handle the snapping chores at center.
“We’re finding out about each other as we go along. Hopefully, we’ll get to where we need to be,” Rice said as to the steps being made by his offensive line before talking about the offense and, for that matter, his team, in general.
“We’re going to throw a lot of guys out there and give them a baptism by fire,” he said.
Things are a bit better, experience-wise, on defense with three players who either started or saw significant action on that side of the ball for the 2011 Spartans back in the fold.
Owens anchors the secondary as that trio’s lone returning starter and will be the leader on that side of the football.
While inexperienced, Rice has seen progress being made along the front line with Blaylock, who saw limited playing time there a year ago, expected to get all the playing time he can handle this time around at one of the two tackles. Lining up alongside Blaylock will be promising newcomer Cole Marullo.
Ryan Figgalo played his way into a starting role as a freshman last season at linebacker. Now, he is firmly entrenched as a starter and will be among those who will be looked to in calling the defensive formations.
From his perspective, Rice likes what he has seen from his squad.
“I think they’re working better and, for the most part, they enjoy being around each other,” he said. “I keep saying that it’s a work in progress but after less than two weeks in practice, that’s about you can expect.”
With little to no recollection of last year’s disappointing season, this current edition of the Spartans are looking to create their own identity while, in the process, helping the program get back on the winning track.
“It was tough,” Rice said in looking back to last year and then, to the upcoming season. “It was definitely something that we’re not used to here. We just have to keep battling. We’re not where we need to be, but we expect to get there, eventually.”

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