By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – With the graduation of star running back D.C. Logan, Water Valley’s big play responsibilities will now fall on junior Chris Conards’ shoulders. Conard, a junior who has featured for the Blue Devils since eighth grade, caught three touchdowns on just five receptions in 2009, as well as adding two defensive touchdowns and 50 tackles from the defensive secondary.
Offensively, Conard will need to do everything possible to minimize the pressure on freshman quarterback E.J. Bounds. Although extremely talented, Bounds has yet to take a snap when it counts, which could lead to Conard getting involved in various ways in the Water Valley offensive scheme. With Conard now having the experience to go with his enormous potential, head coach Brad Embry and the rest of the Blue Devils are expecting a big year from the two-way standout.
Along with Conard, senior safety Eric Buckley must top a stellar 2009 season if Water Valley wants to make another deep playoff run. Buckley racked up 97 tackles from his safety position in a breakout season, while also adding an interception. Defensively, Buckley must emerge as a leader in a secondary that gave up too many big plays in the passing game last season.
Known as a player that isn’t afraid of contact, Buckley has the ability to cover more area and create more turnovers than he did in 2009. As well as having a large role on defense, Buckley could see time in the offensive backfield as the spearhead of the Wildcat offensive package that was introduced by Logan in last year’s controversial second round playoff loss at Belmont. If the offense sputters early, don’t be surprised if Embry turns to Buckley and the Wildcat for a spark.
Just about every superlative in the book has been used to describe senior linebacker J.D. Fondon. Perhaps not the most physically gifted player, Fondon’s intangibles are immeasurable. As a four year starter, and the focal point of defensive coordinator Richard Russo’s schemes for three years, a lot is expected of Fondon entering 2010. Fondon led the Blue Devils with 162 tackles, five fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and five sacks in a stellar 2009 season, but along with the emerging C.J. Jackson, a lot is expected out of the Blue Devil linebackers this season.
If Fondon and the rest of the Water Valley defense can duplicate several outstanding performances from 2009, a trip to Jackson at the end of the season is certainly not out of the question.
Charged with carrying the growing expectations and confidence surrounding the Blue Devil program, freshman quarterback E.J. Bounds has a right to be a little nervous. After all, Bounds has never taken a snap in a competitive game, yet a two year playoff streak and the responsibility of leading a division favorite has fallen squarely in his lap. Inexperience aside, there isn’t much not to like about Bounds. Teammates and coaches say Bounds has that “it” factor to go with a set of physical tools that could make the rookie signal caller an immediate hit. Blessed with a strong arm and big play ability in the open field, Bounds can make every play, but he must avoid costly rookie mistakes if Water Valley is to maximize their potential.
Expect the Blue Devil coaching staff to keep the load on Bounds light early, but at some point during the season, the freshman will have to deliver in order for Water Valley to make a serious run at a state title.