RED SPRINGS — Consistency is the buzzword being thrown around by Ron Cook as he prepares for his third season as coach of the Red Springs football team.
After starting last season with a 6-0 mark, the Red Devils dropped four of their final six games to finish the season at 8-4, losing in the first round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs to Three Rivers Conference foe South Columbus.
The key to getting more of what the team had during the hot start and less of what it had toward the end of the year, Cook says, is senior leadership.
“It starts with our seniors,” he said. “Nothing against the guys last year, but I think we have a better group this year because these guys have been with me for three seasons and two full offseasons, so they understand what we’re trying to do to improve the culture and work ethic.”
So far, Cook is seeing just that as the Red Devils prepare for their season opener at Sandhills on Friday night.
“The seniors are doing a good job of controlling the team and making it their own,” Cook said. “That’s how I want it. I want it to be a senior-led team where the coaches are just managing. They’re not there yet, but I’ll let them know when they get close.”
The group is led by captains Kenston Oxendine, Caleb Locklear, Marquis Ray, Todd Lockhart and Tony Colson.
Oxendine, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive tackle, anchors what Cook believes is the team’s best — and deepest — position group. Oxendine is joined on the defensive line by Ray, all-county performer Jerome Bass, Chad Overstreet, Shatiq Ferguson, Dante Floyd, Trinidy Mack and Cameron Chavis.
“All those guys have done a tremendous job in the weight room this offseason,” Cook said. “They are a lot stronger and explosive than what we’ve had. They’ll be really hard for anyone to block one-on-one.”
For Ray, the goal is simple: be known as the best defensive line in the conference.
“We don’t want to give an inch,” he said.
Oxendine added: “We want a tackle for loss on every play and every tackle should have a defensive lineman in it.”
Bass, the team’s leader a season ago with nine tackles for loss, said he looks for each guy to “play their part and contribute to the team as much as they can.”
“It’s time to step up and go hard,” he said. “We have to go hard every play.”
While the defense looks to be the Red Devils’ strength, the loss of offensive playmakers, Ron Alexander, DeOndre Hallman and Amire West has Cook looking for some new faces to fit in around returning quarterback Lockhart.
Lockhart and all-purpose player Eric “Buddy” Graham return as all-conference performers from last season.
Cook is looking for Justin Locklear to replace Alexander in the backfield.
“Justin will be getting the majority of the carries, but Buddy (Eric Graham) will be a nice changeup,” Cook said. “Justin is a small, shifty back. It’ll be hard for teams to see him coming. I can’t wait to see him carrying the ball. It’s a good combination to have out there.”
Known for spending additional time working on special teams and adding different elements to showcase in games, Cook looks for that group to take another step forward this season.
“We never overlook special teams,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job at working on the fundamentals, making sure guys know where they need to go.”