RED SPRINGS — The commute from Fayetteville to Red Springs is a bit longer these days for Red Devils football coach George Coltharp.
The start to this season’s not what he had in mind.
“I can give you a notebook full of reasons why we’re losing, but life doesn’t care,” Coltharp said after his team lost its sixth straight game last week at South Columbus. “The power company doesn’t care when you miss a payment. You’ll just be arguing in the dark.”
Red Springs (0-6, 0-2) has grown accustomed to winning in recent years.
Since Coltharp’s arrival in 2011, the Red Devils have posted consecutive Robeson County-high win totals and captured their first league championship in eight years last season. But a combination of crippling inexperience, the dismissal of a focal point on offense and the lack of junior varsity development has been too much to bear for the preseason media darlings led by a returning state player of the year quarterback.
“When you graduate not just the stars but those really, really good role players without the benefit of jayvee team, there’s bound to be a lull in some aspects,” Coltharp said. “But I can’t sit here and say I expected this to happen. I really thought we would be in the 4-2 or 3-3 range at this point. I’ve had to coach harder this year than I have in several years … had to do a lot of teaching.”
Coltharp’s had to return to fundamentals during practice time normally allotted to game prep. It’s an issue due in part to the lack of continuity on his coaching staff. He’s retained only one full-time assistant since his start, forcing the Red Devils to learn a variety of new sets on both sides of the football.
Red Springs’ offensive and defensive coordinators have departed for other programs each of the last two seasons and now, Coltharp’s the primary play-caller.
“It’s almost like we’re going through a spring practice with all the new faces (here), but it’s never fine to just throw in the towel on a season,” Coltharp said. “That’s why we’re focused on getting better every day, trying to win football games.”
On the heels of back-to-back trips to the third round of the state playoffs, this was supposed to be the year the Red Devils challenged for a state title with a senior quarterback responsible for more than 100 career touchdowns. Instead, reality set in quickly just four plays into the season.
“When we lost Doody (Lesane) in the first quarter of the opener, that kind of started of chain reaction of bad things happening,” Coltharp said. “We couldn’t catch a cold on offense and Blake (Greene) was on his back more often than not back there in the shotgun. We couldn’t catch a break.”
Lesane was later booted upon his return for repeated violations of team rules, giving way to sophomore DeAndre Hallman in the backfield as Red Springs’ primary ballcarrier. Defenses have focused more on Greene and less on Red Springs’ balanced zone-read attack playing without its returning 1,200-yard rusher.
Coaches are often faced with difficult player personnel decisions during the season that could leave a detrimental effect on the program, but Coltharp says he made the right move dismissing Lesane.
“I answered a question I was going to answer next spring anyway, ‘Who’s going to be the next tailback?’” Coltharp said. “It’s always tough to remove a player for disciplinary reasons, but we’re excited about the next player up. DeAndre runs hard, pass blocks well and has above average speed. Those guys up front are understanding the schemes and getting better.
“Football and life parallel each other so much. Our kids won’t quit, we’re fighters.”
Defensive problems, Greene’s confidence
Markeiss Blue shouldered the blame like any veteran would.
Nineteen individual stops and 2.5 sacks wasn’t enough during a 50-28 home loss to South Johnston on Sept. 13. Blown assignments and poor tackling from the rest of Red Springs’ defensive starters resulted in another defeat.
“This year’s been tough on our senior leaders, Blake, C.J. (McGeachy) and Markeiss,” Coltharp said. “I think the defense looks the worst because of the points we’ve given up. The youth we have is more glaring on defense because a ton of that inexperience is on the front.”
Red Springs’ rush defense is the area’s worst, giving up just over 365 yards per contest. By comparison, the Red Devils gave up more than 200 yards on the ground only four times last season and played minimal snaps with Greene at safety.
He’s had to play both sides of the football to bolster a unit depleted by injury and struggling with youth.
Up front, Greene hasn’t had much help with consistent breakdowns in protection.
Three of the team’s five starting offensive linemen are playing football for the first time while another newcomer had just six snaps of varsity experience coming into August. Two sophomores and two freshmen paired with a new-look defense that graduated six starters and it’s made for a string of lopsided efforts in the first half.
Greene’s confidence was shaken early without protection and a reliable run threat to his right. He’s thrown 15 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions this season and had nearly half of his on-target throws dropped during the first month of the season.
The numbers are a far cry from his county and school-record performance last season of 63 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage.
“He started the year with super, super high expectations and had to deal with adversity so fast,” Coltharp said. “Blake’s still Blake and he’s doing everything he can to help this team win football games.”
Greene’s teammates have started to pitch in, especially over Red Springs’ last two games.
Junior tight end Dewayne Fairley is coming off his best career outing while Jameson Baker and Jaqwan McLaurin have improved their reliability in the short passing game. McGeachy leads Robeson County in total catches as the team’s No. 1 and has done everything in his power to make up for the loss of all-conference wideouts JuJu Brown and Zach Leach despite being hampered by a nagging leg injury.
“We had some guys who looked great in the summer and in the scrimmages, but had the jitters the first few weeks,” Coltharp said. “When the lights come on, it’s a different game. It took us three or four games just to get the adrenaline out of those guys to just play football.”
The locker room’s fine according to Coltharp and no one’s given up on the season or the Three Rivers championship race. The Red Devils will need some help to capture another league title, but their path to the postseason is clear down the stretch.
Win four games and they’re in, beginning with Friday’s trip to Whiteville.
“Markeiss stood up the other day and told the team to forget about the six-game losing streak and let’s go make the playoffs,” Coltharp said. “We owe that to these seniors to go and do that.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.