The dog days of August are upon us, which means two things are just around the corner: the start of a new school year and the start of a new football season. Nine months removed from a 7-3 season and a 3A East playoff appearance, Chesapeake will have to address needs and fill spots left open from graduation in order to return to the postseason this year.
Rob Elliott, who returns for his eighth year as head coach at Chesapeake, hopes to lead his squad back to the playoffs again this season. The Cougars fell to Long Reach in the first round of the 3A playoffs last season by a score of 27-24. He will depend on many key returners and also some new players who will need to step up.
This year’s squad will return a strong receiving corps, including three key contributors in rising seniors Colton Spangler, Russell Tongue and Hunter Davis. The trio was a large part of the passing attack a season ago and with another year under their belts, will be expected to produce even more. Along with the returners, rising junior Alonzo Wilkes will be another name to watch, and at 6-foot-4, he is going to be hard to miss. He has caught coaches’ eyes throughout the seven-on-seven summer circuit and appears to have a strong season ahead of him. Marcus Neal is another guy who will be expected to come in and produce among the receivers following two seasons on the JV team.
Along with the receivers is the return of Chesapeake’s starting quarterback, senior Dylan Young. Also back this season are running backs Khalil Gary, Cole Foca, Brandon Hackney, Devin Forrester and Zach Schuler, who all received playing time a season ago. These players will look to make up for the loss of two backs, Tony Watkins and CJ McNulty, who combined for 18 touchdowns as seniors last year. Thomas Bullen, a rising senior who was voted Second-Team Coaches All-County on the lacrosse field last season, is also back and set to have an impact on the offensive side of the ball. With all of these pieces, Chesapeake appears poised to have a solid offensive attack this season.
Before this offense can reach a high level, however, Chesapeake must replace an offensive line that graduated five starting lineman this past year. Elliott made it clear that this offensive line would lay the foundation for the rest of the team, stating, “In my opinion, football is built first around the offensive line,” and also highlighted that, “the success of our season is going to be dictated on how quickly five new lineman gel together and become a unit.”
To address this major hole in the middle of the offense, the Cougars will look to some new guys and some guys who played some big snaps last year. Matt Blades and Deryk Croghan are two names to watch in the offensive line battle, as both are rising seniors who didn’t start last year but still played meaningful minutes. The competition appears to be wide open as Elliott also mentioned that “there is an outside chance that two sophomores potentially could be starting on the offensive line this year.”
On defense, a cluster of key starters will return, and many guys will play bigger roles. Davis, Tongue, Forrester, Gary and Bullen are expected to be big contributors along with rising seniors AJ Richardson, Cody Carpenter and Andrew Colangelo, among others. Richardson and Carpenter will be expected to lead the defensive line, while Colangelo returns in a hybrid linebacker role. These seniors will be asked to fill a void left by the graduation of two players, Michael Gimon and Dante Thompson, who were selected to the Baltimore Touchdown Club All-Star game last season.
Chesapeake will also boast one of the top special teams units, not only in the county, but in the state. This is largely due to the play of Spangler, who was selected as First Team All-County as a junior and handles both the kicking and punting duties for the Cougars. Kornblue Kicking currently rates Spangler as the 18th best punter and 24th best kicker among upperclassmen in the nation. He broke the school record for longest field goal a season ago with a boot of 47 yards and also converted kicks of 37 and 44 yards. He made all but two extra points and also netted 26 touchbacks on kickoffs and punts. With such a solid piece to work around, Elliott plans to utilize special teams to his advantage this season.
With some key returners gearing up for a final season and some new guys looking to come in and contribute, Elliott and the Cougars understand the expectations upon them. Every player on this team hopes to not only make it back to the 3A playoffs, for the second year in a row and third time in four seasons, but to secure the first playoff win in school history. Beating Northeast would be a nice bonus, as is the case every season.