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Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014

Bluejays moving out of rebuilding mode

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Photo)
2012 Charleston Bluejays
sports@standard-democrat.com

CHARLESTON -- The time of rebuilding is over.

A playoff berth and a .500 regular season a year ago brought optimism and a change of attitude for 2012 for the Charleston Bluejays

"We're not in the rebuilding phase anymore," senior linebacker Cole Byford said. "We're on the up and up and I think we're peaking at the right time here."

Before last year, the Bluejays went a combined 2-28 during a three-year period and hadn't made the playoffs since 2007.

The arrival of head coach Brett Blackman, who went 0-10 his first year on the job and quickly turned that around to a 5-6 record a season ago, as well as the Double Wing offense has put a spark into what's been known as a dwindling program.

"We want to strive for more," senior wide receiver Sumner Foster said. "We've got more people coming back, more talent and we've got more to bring to the table this year."

Sustainment are what the Bluejays are about now.

And although they lost the production of a Jamaul Gray, their do-it-all, top production player from last season, they feel like they also have the means to sustain their talent level.

"I feel like a lot of the key positions that we lost that were big for us last year, we'll be able to replace them," said Blackman. "That's what good programs can do."

The Bluejays had both Gray and Maurice Moore lead their power-run game last year, nearly having both carry for 1,000 yards.

Within their offense, the focus relies on the backfield where Blackman says they have six possible options that can replace the athleticism that Gray brought to the table and the 'bowling ball-like' efforts of Moore.

Within those six predicted to be in the backfield, they all run a 4.6 40-yard dash or better.

"We feel like we have a bunch of different guys that can do a lot of things for us," Blackman said. "They each bring their own unique running style. We're going to use all of those guys in different situations."

Deiontrail Winston, a junior, will take over the fullback duties. Demetric Owens will share carries in that position as well.

In their wingback positions, Robert Bogan (Jr.), Demontrial Clark (Jr.), Rontavious Clark (Soph.) and Darrion Henderson (Sr.) will all share carries in their complex double-tight, double wing offense.

"By utilizing all six of those guys in some form or fashion, we can replace (Gray's) 4.4 speed somewhere," Blackman said. "I have confidence that they will do that."

Running the show will more than likely be senior Mike Hull at quarterback.

Hull finished the last five games of the season for the Bluejays last year at the head of the offense. He went 3-2 and nearly guided his team past Crystal City in a 16-13 loss during the first round of the postseason.

Mike Kellum, a junior, and Delfinko Bogan, a sophomore, were also competing for the position, which was evaluated more closely after their jamboree in Malden Friday.

On top of losing Gray and Moore, Charleston also said goodbye to Krushon Scott -- their reigning defensive end and tight end.

Darrion Carter is expected to take his place as tight end, which is a key position when the Bluejays decide to get away from their motion running attack and pass the ball.

"He's really aggressive, quick off the ball and has great hands," Blackman said about Carter.

Defensively, the Bluejays will lean on their linebacking core, headed by Byford, and their defensive backs.

"Playing a lot faster and everybody seems more focused," Byford said referring to his teams advantages for this year. "We've got a lot of the talent we need, we just need to keep focused and use it."

Although strong in both those departments, Blackman admits improvement on the defensive line has to be made.

"We've got to make some plays up front -- in key points in the game," said Blackman. "We can't let linemen clear and get on our linebackers, who are the guys that make the majority of our tackles.

"I feel like the guys that we have there can do the things we're asking them to do," Blackman added. "That should lead us to having a pretty decent defense."

Wanting to keep up their recent turn of events in wins and success, the Bluejays have a daunting task ahead of them to start the season.

Charleston opens with road games against Sikeston and Hayti, and returns home to host their defending districts champions -- Caruthersville.

"The key for us is we need to beat some of these teams that we're not supposed to beat," Blackman said. "That's what we're looking to do this year. We have a tough test ahead of us with those three teams. We're going to try to be up for those challenges."

Charleston begins their season Friday at Sikeston Public School Stadium at 7 p.m.