PEMBROKE — As a rising senior leader for the Purnell Swett High School football team, Dantae King’s message for his fellow Rams is one of belief.
“We have to believe that we can beat anyone,” said King, an all-county performer who anchors the Rams’ offensive line. “What we do as players reflects on the coaches and the team. We have to come out with energy and set the tone.”
Coming off a 2-9 season in his first season with the Rams, Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman believes the team is in a better position heading into his second year at the helm.
“The first year was a lot of growing pains,” Sherman said. “It can be cliche’ because a lot of coaches say that, but I can be honest with you in saying it feels like the team is on the right path.
“I feel like we’re on a better page than we were last year and I’m a better coach than I was last year. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.”
Having King as the leader of the offensive line, Sherman looks at that group as the team’s driving force.
“I call him (Dantae) the silent assassin,” he said. “When he talks you know something is going on. He sets the tone a lot. We have young guys at quarterback and receiver, so the true mouthpiece has been the offensive line. They’re ready. I’m excited about that.”
The addition of some high-profile coaches has also helped Sherman get some traction heading into the season. Robbie Brown and Trey Sasser are two notable additions to the coaching staff, with Brown coming to the program as the new offensive coordinator after serving the same position for powerhouse Dillon and Sasser joining the Rams as an offensive line coach after serving as head coach at St. Pauls.
“My weakness as a coach is trusting the staff,” Sherman said. “Last year I was kind of micro-managing. I feel like I don’t have to do that this year because I know stuff will get done. All of those guys (the coaches) have been great.”
King also acknowledged the difference additional coaches have made this offseason.
“With some new coaches, it’s helping us prepare more for games and scrimmages,” he said. “Coach Sasser has brought a lot of experience to the offensive line and is coaching us up to get better.”
While the offensive line appears to be set for the Rams, the starting quarterback job is still up for grabs as juniors Desmond Davis and Luke Oxendine battle it out. Davis saw time starting at varsity last season, while Oxendine was the jayvee quarterback, but also saw time as a backup for the varsity.
Sherman said both will see time during the season because of their overall talent.
“It’s going to be a hard decision,” he said. “Either way, whoever doesn’t start will play. Both have the talent to play at other positions.”
McKinley Strickland leads a young receiving corps, along with sophomore Chandler Brayboy, who has caught Sherman’s eye with his speed.
“Coming into the summer we were looking young, but I’ve seen a lot promise from those guys,” Strickland said. “It’s not just about one person though. You need all 11 guys on the field competing if you want to win.”
Youth is consistent across the board on defense as well for the Rams, but Sherman named Zidarrel Stanton, Ritchie McCrimmon and Jessup Oxendine as a few players to look out for this season on that side of the ball.
“We’re young, but I think people will be surprised,” he said. “We’re deep at every spot. I really have faith in what we can do on defense.”
The goal, Sherman says, is “consistent smoothness” on offense and a fast, physical approach on defense.
“We’ve been preaching a physical, attacking play,” he said. “We’re going all out. Right or wrong, I want them to play fast and physical. On offense, we don’t want to be choppy like last year.
“As a team, no matter what the score is, we want to fight and respond.”
The Rams open the season on Friday at Pine Forest.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.