PIGSKIN 2016: Wildcats building with new faces, new coach
Andrews – It’s a new day in Andrews, with a new coach, new offense and goals to capitalize on a strong 2015 season.
The Wildcats are led by new head coach James Phillips, who played at Andrews in the 1990s and has been an assistant coach at Swain County for the last 16 years.
Andrews went 6-7 last year and reached the second round of the playoffs. But the Wildcats lost a strong senior class and have just eight seniors this year.
“You could call us young, but every senior we’ve got has played a lot,” Phillips said. “We’ve got some experience.”
The Wildcats are switching from the spread option to the veer, the offense used by Swain County for many years.
“The veer is a pretty simple offense once you learn it, so there’s some growing pains to that,” Phillips said. “It takes thousands of reps, but we’re getting better every day.”
Three players are in the mix at quarterback, as Dillan Phillips, Eric Maennle and Matthew Barton all saw action at the scrimmage at Robbinsville. The starter is still unknown.
Taylor Parker, who had 1,295 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, will move from quarterback to tailback. Zach Shepherd is the backup there, with Andrew Horton starting at fullback.
“We’re still looking at three quarterbacks right now, so whichever of them isn’t playing there will play somewhere because they’re all good athletes and great kids,” Phillips said.
Kylan Thompson will be the team’s top returning receiver, along with Mitchell McGaha, who saw plenty of playing time as a sophomore. Cody Mathis also could be in the mix for the Wildcats on the perimeter.
Phillips said early in fall practice that Jack Newton, Abe Christensen and Trevor Larey would get looks at tight end. In the scrimmage at Robbinsville, Christensen started at right tackle opposite his brother Pierce, who anchors the line at left tackle.
Nick Denard will play center with Knox Chapman, Corey Brown, Hunter Rickett and Zane Wood in the mix on the interior line.
“I always like to have 10 linemen, and right now we’re at about six, so I have to keep developing them,” said Phillips, who coached linemen for many years at Swain County.
Andrews’ defense will be similar in scheme to last season, and the Wildcats return All-Smoky Mountain Conference cornerback Drew Pyle as well as Barton on the outside. Parker and Maennle will play safety.
The linebackers at the Robbinsville scrimmage were Horton, Shepherd, Newton and Jennings Cooper. Much of the defensive line will be playing both ways.
“We’re trying hard to get them in as good a shape as we can because they’re going to have to play both sides,” Phillips said.
Phillips likes the attitude of his new players so far.
“They’re a hard-working bunch of kids. Anything I have put on them, they do it,” Phillips said. “They don’t shirk away from a challenge, and that’s going to serve them well. …
“Any respect we get in the Smoky Mountain Conference, we’ll have to earn, and that’s fine. Swain, Murphy, Robbinsville have all earned their respect over many years of building a solid program.
“That’s what we need to get to, and the kids have that mentality. They want to be on that top tier, but to do that you can’t just talk it, you have to earn it.”