The Middlesboro Yellow Jackets will be sporting a new look in 2012, and it’s not just the new true gold uniforms.
For most of the past four seasons, and especially in Randy Frazier’s first two as head coach, MHS football meant watching Chase Roark sling the ball all over the field. While the offense usually put up big numbers it didn’t always translate into wins and Frazier, a former linebacker, is determined to see the Jackets play better on that side of the ball.
“Hopefully our big identity as a football team is that we play better defense. We’ve got to focus on that side of the ball and do a lot better,” he said.
The offense promises to be more balanced with sophomore quarterback Major Edwards moving into the starting job and Middlesboro is also switching is base look from the spread to a variation of the Wing-T.
“Chase is an outstanding quarterback, he holds most of the records here and he was a pleasure to coach,” said Frazier. “We’ve got a sophomore in there now and he can throw the ball as well. We hope when it’s all said and done they come back and say: ‘We didn’t know if they were going to run or pass.’ That’s what we’re shooting for. It just takes longer for the other teams to prepare if they have to be ready for both.”
Joining Edwards in the backfield will be a trio of sophomore backs — Parker Uhl at fullback, Jake Brock at the Z and Seth Barton at the H.
The offensive line is made up mostly of juniors who received plenty of playing time last season. Tyler Prater (6-2, 235) is the center, Jason Napier (5-10, 255) is the left guard, Matt Schneider (6-1, 225) is the left tackle and Hunter Collett (6-1, 240) is the right tackle. Senior Dakota Partin (5-9, 180) rounds out the group at right guard.
On the outside Middlesboro features a pair of match-up nightmares at receiver. Senior Zach Riddle and junior Austin Poindexter both go about 6-4 and have the ability to stretch the field or make moves after catching short passes. Junior Donnie Foister also returns as a starter and will be on the field most of the time, especially in passing situations. All three caught at least 60 passes last year and gained over 700 yards.
“When you line up outside with two guys 6-5 that can run it’s great, you better have some tall corners out there,” Frazier said. “We can go out and do some of the things we’ve done in the past. Those guys are great targets and they work hard. We’re definitely going to use those guys.”
But the Jackets are committed to becoming more of running team in 2012 and a pair of mighty mites will play a big role on the ground as Uhl and Brock both are listed at 5-foot-6.
“What makes up for that is our kids are hard-nosed. They may look small but take Seth Barton, he’s put on 15 pounds in the weight room and goes 5-10, 175, you don’t get many bigger backs in high school than that,” Frazier said. “What compliments our kids is they’ve got speed. Jake Brock, Parker Uhl, Ryan Pittman and Seth Barton can all run. I think we’re a lot faster than we’ve been and I think we’re a lot better up front than we’ve been in a while.
“It’s not that we have better players than last year or the year before, we’ve had some great players here the last couple of years. But the weight room has made a big difference and you can look at our kids and see that. By the time all of these young kids put in three or four years in the weight room, we have high expectations for them.”
On the defensive side of the ball the Jackets also have 12 different players they consider starters depending on the match-ups as they line up with a 60 look.
Freshman Daniel Webb (5-10, 245) and sophomore Camre Stephney (6-5, 245) join Prater and Schneider to make up the defensive front.
Napier and Pittman are the middle linebackers with backup quarterback Tyler Yoakum and fellow sophomore Cole Frazier starting on the outside.
Riddle and Foister are the primary corners with Poindexter and Barton manning the safety spots.
“We said last year that we were young with four or five seniors. This year we look up and there’s one (senior) that starts on defense. We’re very, very young with a lot of sophomores and juniors and even a freshman starting. We hope to grow every week and get better every week,” said Frazier.
In spite of all that youth, Frazier and his staff have been pleased with how the team has come to practice each day ready to work.
“We’ve talked all through preseason about attitude and effort — we want to be able to coach them — and so far this has been a great bunch of guys as far as those things go.”
Middlesboro opens the season at home on Friday against Bourbon County and big Kentayvous Hopkins, the state’s leading returning rusher. The Jackets posted a 41-21 win at Bourbon in last year’s opener but Frazier conceded that the defense will have to play better than they did in last week’s scrimmage if they want to win.
The Jackets won’t play another home game until Oct. 12 and have only three games at home after Jackson County dropped them and caused Frazier to have to scramble to find a replacement.
On Aug. 24 MHS goes to Hancock County, Tenn., and then visits Bell County for the City/County Bowl on Aug. 31. In September Middlesboro visits Harlan, Morgan County and Shelby Valley around a Sept. 14 open date. October brings district play with the Jackets going to Lexington Christian on Oct. 5 and hosting Danville for Hall of Fame Night on Oct. 12 then Somerset on Senior Night and homecoming on Oct. 19. Middlesboro closes out the regular season at Lynn Camp on Oct. 26.
Even with so many young players — Middlesboro has only four seniors on the roster — Frazier says the team’s primary goal is to win games.
“We want to win the district, we want a winning season, we want to win football games. That’s our goal, that’s our baseline, that’s everything we want to do. That’s what we’re trying to instill into these young kids and hopefully they’ll respond.”