Aug. 11—PEMBROKE — Purnell Swett lost all five games it played in the Rams' first season under coach Stephen Roberson. But that debut season came after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and athletic workouts for nearly the whole offseason, meaning the team didn't get the conditioning Roberson felt it needed.
Since the spring season ended, the Rams have come a long way with that conditioning work as they prepare for this fall's campaign.
""I think we're further along in the conditioning phase, we're further along schematically, when it comes to what we want to install and what we want to do, and I was really learning what kid's capabilities were as the season went along," Roberson said. "So just from a matter of being prepared, and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of some of the players we have, I think we're in a lot better position this year going in."
Unfortunately for the Rams, a lot of that offseason momentum was halted when the team was forced into quarantine last week. Their season opener against St. Pauls is postponed, since they won't have the practice days required to play by Week 1; they're currently scheduled to open at home against Fairmont on Aug. 27.
"It really takes your kids away and you want to encourage them to work out and keep their conditioning level up," Roberson said. "But we all know these are 14- to 18-year-olds that we're talking about, and I hope they understand that it's important that they stay physically active, and we're doing things to try to keep them mentally sharp, with Zoom and Google Meets, to continue that phase of installing and teaching that we do in our program."
Senior Nathaniel Henderson returns at starting quarterback, with a group of young running backs set for a run-by-committee approach in junior Jace Lowry, sophomore Jeremiya Dial and junior Nate Smith.
"Hopefully with that stable of backs we're able to control the ball a little better than we have been in the past," Roberson said.
Senior Sam Dial will anchor the offensive line, while seniors Garyen Maynor and Caleb Moser will be the primary passing targets.
"I thought last year as the season went on we got a little bit better; not necessarily putting up a lot of points, but we were able to move the ball quite a bit better in some of our games later in the year," Roberson said. "Just being more aggressive and having some physical strength that we haven't had, I think we'll be able to put some points up. Hopefully we can get past that being a weakness."
Defensively, seniors Isaac Locklear and Jayden Kegler will lead the defensive line, with senior Josiah Brooks set to be strong at linebacker and William Locklear and Michael Jacobs at the cornerback positions.
"I think we're going to have a really solid secondary," Roberson said. "I think we're going do be able to do some things we haven't done in a while, play some man, and make teams one-dimensional."
After averaging 6.4 points per game last season, Roberson said one key to his defense playing up to its capabilities is for the offense to stay on the field more consistently this season.
"We put our best talent on the defensive side of the ball to try and keep the game close as long as we can, but it's going to take help from both sides of the ball," Roberson said. "If we can't sustain drives and give them some rest and get them off the field, they'll eventually wear down, so the goal is to be balanced, win the time of possession and keep our defense fresh later in the game."
For more on the upcoming season for all five Robeson County high school football teams, see the Pigskin Preview section in the Aug. 14 edition of The Robesonian.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.