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Spartans prepared to put the past behind them

Posted: September 10, 2013 2:03 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

MAX BRYANT, A MISSOURI NATIVE, eyes a receiver during Camden Military Academy’s practice on Monday.

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Some football coaches dread having of roster filled with new faces to their programs.
Not Will Rice.
After enduring back-to-back winless campaigns over the past two seasons, the Camden Military Academy head coach is hoping that an influx ofnew blood to the program will bring a new mindset to the team as the Spartans prepare for Friday’s night’s season opener against nearby North Central in Boonetown.
Rice and his staff greeted a more physical and more athletic group of players when the team began preparations for the upcoming season a little more than two weeks ago. The CMA boss said having players who are unfamiliar with the program’s recent past is not a bad thing.
“They didn’t go through the struggles we’ve had,” Rice said of the newcomers. “But the little core group of kids that we have understand that this is a process.”
While many of the teams the Spartans will face this fall kicked off pre-season practice Aug. 2, Rice and company did not hit the field for the first time until Aug. 25. When scheduled season-opening opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, downgraded their program to eight-man football, it led to the Spartans’ having to take on North Central for game one, without the benefit of a game or, even a scrimmage, under their belt.
On Monday, as his team prepared to start practice leading up to Friday night’s contest, the Spartans were short-handed with one starting offensive lineman ruled out for the game with a wrist injury sustained while mountain biking over the weekend. Another lineman was not dressed out as he awaited medical clearance for a knee injury. Two players were in their barracks with illness while another projected (non-line) starter was on his way to campus on Tuesday from Baltimore.
This was hardly your run of the mill day. Still, Rice managed a semblance of a smile when asked how practice had been going, up to this point.
“It’s been going well,” he said. “We’ve had some unexpected injuries which are always part of the first few weeks of practice. Some of them, we’ll get back and, some of them we know won’t be ready for the first game.”
Gone from last year’s 0-8 squad is tailback Ange Gadji, who was responsible for nearly half of CMA’s points. Returning to the offense is quarterback Ricky Thornley. The lefty from the Charleston area has been pushed by Max Bryant, who hails from Missouri.
Together, Thornley and Bryant have waged a spirited battle for the starting job under center. The race was close enough that Rice said he would not be able to name a starter until later in the week.
John Puhl is back as a blocking back for the Spartans, who will operate out of the shotgun spread with an I backfield. First-year CMAers, Ian Benton and Colton Rogers are battling for the starting tailback position while the return of Jake Harper will give either Thornley or Bryant a dependable threat at wide receiver.
Whoever gets the nod at signal-caller, he will operate behind an offensive line which, when everyone returns from injury or illness, should be the strong suit of the squad.
Nathan Lusk and Joshua Buck were both starters last year and will be the linchpins of a front line which also includes Shawn Hansberry, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound right tackle out of New York., whom Rice expects to be an impact player. Walker Leverette is another player slotted for a starting post on the interior.
Rice said he feels the offensive line will be the strength of his team and the offense will go as that unit goes, “if we can get everybody healthy. But that’s a big ‘if’”, he said.
“(The offense) is a work in progress, right now. We just can’t seem to get everybody healthy on the same day. Some are freak, non-football-related accidents. It’s part of it. The only difference is that these other high schools get a lot more weeks to prepare and get a lot more weeks to get these guys back than we do.”
The Spartans will be back in a four-man front with Leverette anchoring the front line. The linebacking corps returns Ryan Figlow from a year ago while Brandon Crandall, an athletic 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from the Seattle area, is a player who could make an impact at linebacker as well as running the football. Expect to see Benton and Rogers receiving significant playing time at linebacker, as well.
The secondary will be a work in progress as that part of the defense was hit hard by graduation and personnel losses.
With so many newcomers blending in with the players who have been with the Spartans before this season, Rice said he is pleased with the effort he has seen. He also is sensing the team’s chemistry is starting to develop. For a program looking for a rebound season, those are the signs which Rice and his coaching staff were hoping to see heading into the campaign.
“I think we have a chance to be a lot better than we were last year,” Rice said, “but that all depends on whether we come together, if we get healthy … there’s a lot of factors involved there.
“It’s going to be a process. We might struggle early, just because we’re so far behind other teams. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

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