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2018 John A. Holmes Football Preview: Another year of high expectations

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Junior Mitjonta Stanley (left) returns to running back this season after leading John A. Holmes to the regional championship as quarterback last year.

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By David Gough
Sports Writer

Saturday, August 11, 2018

EDENTON — It’s another season of high expectations at John A. Holmes this season.

The Aces football team reached the 1A NCHSAA East Regional championship last season, one year removed from making it to the 2A state championship.

Paul Hoggard, entering his fourth year as head coach in Edenton, likes the expectations that way.

“You want to be in a program where expectations are high,” he said. “It’s a lot better that way than when you have a .500 season and everybody’s happy about that.”

John A. Holmes, Hoggard says, will have to adopt a next-man-up mentality this season, especially in the triple-option offense where key contributors graduated in the spring.

Running backs Keimon Bailey, who accounted for a whopping 2,470 yards rushing last year, and Dequantae Spruill, 880 yards, are no longer there.

But this season, Hoggard remains confident that this year’s skill guys will step up and possibly fill the void of no more Bailey and Spruill.

Kentreaz Coston returns at quarterback after sitting out most of his junior season with a broken ankle, which came off the heels of a broken shoulder in junior varsity the year before.

Coston has missed a total of about a year and a half of play.

“You hope that he can stay healthy his senior year and really have a great year,” Hoggard said.

Mitjonta Stanley stepped up as quarterback in place of the injured Coston last season. As a sophomore, he rushed for 833 yards and threw for 447, with 21 total touchdowns.

He will back as the lead running back this season.

While most of the offense came from the rushing attack last season, this year sees a boost of experience from the wide receiving corps.

Seniors Zion Boston, Zakeem Brooks, Nakevin Hill and Chace Kelly will be used in the passing game, as well as newcomer junior Keenan Downing.

The Perquimans transfer led the Pirates his freshman year with 343 receiving yards on 29 receptions.

“We have skill kids that run well and are fairly strong,” Hoggard said. “They’re also the most experienced group of the kids on the team that have experience, which are few.”

The area of the team not quite as experienced coming into this season is the offensive line.

None of them, Hoggard said, have played a varsity snap on the offensive line. It’s also not the bulkiest offensive line either.

“Since that’s the case, you have to be very good fundamentally,” Hoggard said. “Fundamentals have to be very good and you have to have a little grit about you. You have to have a little toughness.”

It’s been one of the aspects on the team that Hoggard and the coaching staff have made sure to work hard on the most in camp this month.

Defensively, plenty of the starters are recognizable names that will be contributing on the offense.

Boston, Brooks, Downing, Hill, Coston, Kelly and Stanley will all have playing time as defensive backs.

Boston had a third-best 121 total tackles on the team, while Stanley was fourth-best with 105. The two leading tacklers from last year in Xavius Capehart and Tim White graduated.

Brooks and defensive lineman Mason Bateman were both voted on as senior captains for the Aces.

“Our senior group as a whole has done a good job,” Hoggard said. “I would like to say our whole senior group is hopefully going to become very good leaders.”

The Aces host First Flight this Friday at 7:30 p.m. as they hope it’s a start to a campaign leading them back to at least another regional championship game.

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