By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – After a 2-8 season in 2007, the Water Valley Blue Devil football program had a change at the top, hiring former Tupelo High School offensive line coach Brad Embry to replace Trent Hammond as head coach.
Embry, who is now in his first head coaching position, takes over a Blue Devil team that was hit hard by inexperience and injuries during last year’s campaign. However, Embry believes the talent is present to turn this program around.
“We’re good enough to win games, we just have to be confident,” said Embry. “In those close games, confidence can decide the outcome.”
On both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils will take on a significantly different look in 2008. Offensively, Embry has implemented a multi I-formation, making the Blue Devil more multi-faceted in both the run and passing game. On the much maligned defensive side of the ball, Embry hired former North Delta head coach Richard Russo to take over Blue Devil defense that allowed a school record 38.5 points per game last season. The Water Valley defense has made changes in both schemes, going from a 5-2 base defense to a 4-3, and personnel.
The Blue Devil offense will be under the command of Leo Daniels in 2008, with newcomer Josh Johnson also competing for playing time. Daniels, who started last year on an offense that averaged 20.2 points per game, has benefited greatly from strong practices in both spring and summer, allowing him to keep Johnson at bay.
“It’s nothing against Josh (Johnson), Leo had a good spring and a good 7 on 7 in the summer, so he’s a little ahead,” said Embry.
Daniels has the potential to provide for the Blue Devils with both his feet and his arm, while Johnson is more of a pocket passer.
“I like that we throw the ball around, and I like the I-formation,” said Daniels.
While Daniels appears to be set to start the season, Johnson is prepared to take over if need be.
Arguably the strongest unit on the Blue Devil squad is in the backfield, as a trio of running backs will be looking to lead the Water Valley ground attack. Headlined by junior Davidtron “DC” Logan, Embry appears to have a stable of running backs at his disposal.
“We’re deep at running back, we’ve got 3 guys that can start anywhere in the division,” said Clint Faust, one of two holdover coaches from Hammond’s staff.
Along with Logan, Torrey Horton and Eric Buckley will need to split the workload in the backfield, as both Buckley and Logan also play in the defensive secondary. However, Logan will be relied on to provide big plays for the Water Valley offense.
“We’ve got some things we’ll use to get him the ball,” said Embry. “But we’ve got some other playmakers too.”
Big seasons from the trio of running backs should significantly decrease pressure on Daniels, as it will open up the field for big plays in the passing department.
Another strength for Water Valley is the incredibly deep wide receiver unit, with as many as six Blue Devils looking for playing time. Newcomer Tank Hervy, Chris Conard, Tavi Toles, D’ante Rogers, Davidtron Logan, and speedster Cory Carr should all see time at wide receiver, giving Daniels or Johnson plenty of targets down the field.
“They’re learning their routes and getting their timing down so they’ll be ready for the season,” said receivers and safeties coach Shane Brown. “They work hard every day.”
There’s no doubt the talent is plentiful in this group, but talent must lead to production for the Blue Devils this season. A season full of big plays from these wide receivers could see the Blue Devil offense progress to one of the best in 2A.
The unit that will have the biggest effect on the production of the Blue Devil offense is undoubtedly the Water Valley offensive line.
“If I don’t do my job, and they (offensive line) don’t do theirs, we won’t win ballgames,” said Faust. “We want a 100 yard rusher every game and we’d like to have a 2,000 yard rusher for the season.”
While the offensive line will be led by seniors Ryan Bain, Tyler Jones, and J.J. Woodard, Faust is looking for his underclassmen to step up.
“I’ve got some young guys that if they’ll work, some seniors might have their playing time cut,” said Faust.
The new multi I-formation should help the offensive line tremendously, as they will have more space to open up running room for Logan, Horton, and Buckley, while avoiding seven or eight defenders hugging the line of scrimmage.
“Our offense was too tight last year, and our offensive line wasn’t made for that,” said Logan.
The pressure of paving the way for a talented offense has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line, and their response to that pressure will go a long way to determining the production of a tremendously talented offense.
The change of Water Valley’s base defense from a 5-2 to a standard 4-3 should pay huge dividends for the Blue Devil defensive line. Led by senior J.J. Woodard, the Water Valley defense is looking to bounce back from a tough season in 2007. Supporting Woodard up front will be, Bain, Jones, Tommy Libscomb, and Demarcus Wilson.
Defensive Tackle coach Bryant Mix, the other holdover from Hammond’s staff, is looking for the defensive line to take on a “doggish” mentality, as he expects the defensive front to show improvement.
“We’re going to be more aggressive,” said Mix. “The people in Water Valley are going to be surprised by how much this team has grown. A lot of our kids busted their tails in the weight room this summer, and it’s paying off.”
As with the offensive line, the defensive front needs to provide the foundation for the rest of Russo’s defense to improve on. The adage games are won and lost in the trenches tends to be proven right more times than not, so it is vital for this unit to show strength against the run, while sustaining a pass rush.
Graduation hit no group as hard as the hole it left in the Blue Devil line backing corp. The graduation of emotional and physical leader of defense, linebacker and Mississippi State signee Antonio Hoskins has left massive shoes to fill in the middle of the Water Valley defense. Attempting to step into those shoes is Nick Robinson, a senior who defensive coaches look to as a potential leader. In the Water Valley’s new 4-3 scheme, Robinson and his fellow linebackers will have more opportunities to make plays in both the run and passing game.
The biggest area of improvement on the Water Valley defense very well could be the defensive secondary. Two first year players, Tank Hervy and Josh Johnson, will look to fill holes at cornerback and strong safety respectively. Lining up next to Johnson at safety will be Logan and Buckley, as the two will split free safety as well as running back duties.
“Our secondary is as athletic as its been in a long time,” said Faust.
Johnson and Logan will be counted on to be the quarterbacks of the defense, providing the leadership and big plays this defense desperately needs.
“I’m deep with athletes there (safety), and we’ll be strong there.”
With the additions of Hervy and Johnson, and the athleticism of Logan and Buckley, the secondary has the potential to be the strongest unit of the defense.