Though he was a quarterback in his playing days, Reggie Stancil has long been a believer that the key to the success often begins up front on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
And after watching his team struggle in all areas, including both offensive and defensive line, over his first two seasons as the Lions’ head coach, he is convinced he has the pieces in place for the Lions to make a major improvement in 2019 from a team that has won just three games the past two seasons.
For reference, he looks back at the lines that Norcross has during their back-to-back Class AAAAAA state championship seasons in 2012 and 2013, when he was an assistant on the Blue Devils’ staff.
“You can have all the athletes you want (at the skill positions), … but if you don’t have an offensive or defensive line, it’s really tough to build,” Stancil said. “The two years we won state championships at Norcross, the highlight of our team — and yes, we had athletes all over the field, and we’ve always had that at Norcross. But the years we had a really good offensive line … were the two years we won the state championship.
“So I firmly believe that if you have an offensive line (and) if you mix in a few athletes on the outside, you’re going to be really, really good. The same goes on defense. If you’re going to stop the run by stuffing the inside with your defensive line, I think that you’re going to be successful on defense.”
Whether the Lions’ talent level matches that of that Norcross title teams remains to be seen, but from a standpoint of experience and an understanding of the game, this year’s offensive and defensive lines figure to be among the team’s strengths.
That may be particularly the case for the offensive line, which returns rising seniors Matthew Adoghe and Josh Keomysay, plus rising juniors Alex Carman, Amari McNeill and Cameron Ellerby, all of whom started multiple games last season.
And he expects that experience and cohesion of working together to make a major difference in both Peachtree Ridge’s running and passing games in the fall.
“My first year, we had guys who were good-sized kids, but I think only one guy ended up playing varsity football the season before,” Stancil said. “So we had a whole new group of guys. who were older, but hadn’t played (much) varsity ball. And then bringing in a new system, toward the middle and end of the year, they started to kind of figure it out. But at the end of the day, they still weren’t experienced.
“Then the second year, we started four sophomores and a junior (on the offensive line), and the junior was in his second year of ever playing football. So that in itself just proved tough, especially in our region.”
Adgohe may be the best example of what Stancil is talking about.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound tackle was the junior he referred to as having only taken up football just three years ago, but has made major strides to the point of where he has become one of the main anchors of the line, and is receiving scholarship offers from several college programs, including Mercer.
“The one guy that’s getting a lot of attention from colleges is Matthew Adoghe,” Stancil said. “He has about four our five offers. He’s done really, really well this summer. He’s been a really good player for us, worked really hard in the weight room. I’ve very, very happy with what he’s done.”
The defensive line may not have quite as extensive experience as the offensive counterpart, but there is still more of it, and plenty of depth, for that unit.
“We’ve got Jalen Lee, who’s going to play D-end and linebacker,” Stancil said. “He’s very, very good off the edge. We’ve got some good tackles that we’re really high on — Jacob Allen, Caleb Franklin, Jeremy Obiora. And then we’ve got a junior tackle who’s not very tall, but he’s a very, very strong and really good football player in Jaylen Madden. So we’ve got some D tackles and some D Ends, and a lot of those guys can do both. They can (line up) in and out. So they’re very versatile, and we feel really good about our depth.”
Adgohe could also contribute on the defensive side of the ball at tackle in special situations, one of several offensive linemen who are capable of making such a move.
However, Stancil says he doesn’t expect Adoghe, or any of the linemen, to pull much double duty this fall, which he believes is a sign that the Lions may be ready to make more of a move back towards the top end of the Region 6-AAAAAAA standings in 2019.
“We will have a few guys play both sides a little bit, but it will be only be in special situations,” Stancil said. “My philosophy is that I really don’t want to play guys both ways. When you have 140 (to) 150 kids in the program, sometimes you can take the second and third guys and make him as good as the first guy by giving him more reps.
“If you rely on a lot of people to build both (lines) and that person goes down, now you lose two positions instead of just one. So in a case of need, yes, we’ll do it. But if there’s no need, there’s no need for us to do it.”