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September 1, 2014

2014 Smithfield Packers Preview

2014 Tidewater Football Schedules
2013 Tidewater Football Schedules & Results


Bay Rivers District, Class 4A, Region 4A South
Head Coach: Clark Harrell

Recent History:
2011 - - 1-9 (missed playoffs)
2012 - - 10-2 (lost to Courtland 18-15 in regional final)
2013 - - 4-6 (missed playoffs)

In 2012, Harrell orchestrated one of the finest turnarounds as the Packers went from a squad well below .500 searching for answers to winning all but two of their 12 games and finishing as a Region I Division 4 finalist. With youth galore in 2013, including freshmen starters at tailback and wide receiver along with a new quarterback, the Packers struggled. Following a three-game winning streak that put them at 4-2, Smithfield dropped its final four games to Bay Rivers District opponents, missing the postseason for the third time in four years.

Offensive Outlook:
When Bruce Cypress went down with an injury early last season, it really took away a dimension of their offensive attack and prevented them from putting up better numbers than their 21.4 points per game, which was still enough to keep them competitive. Impressively, they did it with a couple of freshmen playing key roles in tailback Donald King (5-10, 185) and wideout Chris 'Junie' Pierce (6-3, 205). King ran for 1043 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago, while Pierce is a two-sport standout with the next-level frame and skills to cause mismatches.

As a team, the Packers threw for only 608 yards, a number that'll need to increase in order for them to be more productive on offense. Three guys are vying for the quarterback job with juniors Lowell Patron (6-1, 180) and Nick Turner (5-11, 165) as well as senior Devin Williams (5-11, 160), who could also see time at receiver. While King and Pierce are the two playmakers most everyone will be watching, Smithfield returns 10 offensive starters, one of which is senior tight end/h-back James Green (6-0, 195). A three-year starter, Green had nearly 300 yards receiving and 3TD's last year.

Also figuring into the mix at receiver will be seniors Nick Wells (6-3, 180) and Mario Bibbins (5-10, 160) as well as sophomore Jaquan Ridley (6-0, 185). Another sophomore, Will Robinson (5-9, 190), could occasionally spell King running the ball. On the offensive line, the Packers have seven bodies for five positions with seniors Collin Todd (6-1, 260), Jay Burke (6-1, 265) and Will Brayshaw (6-4, 240); juniors Mason McCarthy (6-5, 285), Cole Manfred (6-0, 195) and Ross Manfred (6-0, 270); and sophomore Raekwon Batten (6-0, 215).

Defensive Outlook:
Defensively, the Packers had problems last year and that's where their inexperience at all three levels cost them. They went from surrendering 13 points per game to yielding around 27 a contest, more than double. What's the main concern? "Stopping the run," Harrell answered. On the plus side, they aren't throwing the same number of freshmen in the fire and instead sprinkle in about four or five sophomores with juniors and seniors. That should allow them to improve some, even if it's not drastically, on this side of the ball from a statistical standpoint.

To go with 10 offensive starters returning, Smithfield has 10 defensive starters back, according to Harrell. Pierce and fellow sophomore Jack Darden (6-2, 215) should easily combine for double-digit sacks from the d-end spots. Meanwhile, Todd, Brayshaw and Ross Manfred will handle the duties at d-tackle. Green, who had 71 tackles in 2013, and junior Ben Jones (5-10, 195) are sure tacklers at linebacker. Junior Will Robinson (5-10, 190) is slated to play the weak outside 'backer spot.

What Smithfield wants to see is someone in the secondary show the knack for finding the football against the pass like Pierce and Darden do up front against the run. Seniors Antonio Shaw (5-9, 165) and Devin Simmons (5-9, 170) are the projected starters at corner, while Ridley and Wells hold down things at safety. They could do some mixing and matching with lineups, possibly using King at DB, moving Green from linebacker to safety, and even playing Pierce at outside 'backer.

Date to Circle:
October 17 vs. Lafayette. One can make the case that the 62-0 loss to Lafayette last year was the one that took Smithfield from in the playoff picture to out. Certainly, if they win tight games in the weeks that followed to Poquoson that they lost 35-33 and York that they lost 15-14, it's a moot point. But it began a four-game losing skid, and while nobody will expect them to beat consensus BRD favorite Lafayette, they will have the game at home this year and playing them within two or three touchdowns ought to give them the confidence to close on a three-game winning streak that gets them in the postseason.

Hat's Hit:
With RB King and WR Pierce back in the fold, the Packers have, "potential to be good on offense," as Harrell stated. Those are two of the best weapons in the Bay Rivers District to have, and best of all they have them for three more seasons. That gives them reason to believe they can finish atop the Bay Rivers some time between now and 2016. In order for that goal to become a reality, it will take a few things to happen.

Clearly, the Packers will have to get consistency and mistake-free play from the quarterback position to think about finishing higher than their projection of third behind Lafayette and Tabb in the Bay Rivers District. Furthermore, if they become a turnover-prone offense and the defense shows weaknesses they can't hide, the Packers could have another late-season slide like the one they experienced last year. The defense has to make a jump up this year or else it'll be another year without being in the playoffs.

In seven of the past nine seasons, Smithfield has finished with a winning record, so last year was more of an aberration their fans believe with a bunch of underclassmen seeing the field. They'll still have a host of sophomores seeing extended minutes, but they are now more seasoned and very capable of getting them above the .500 mark with a playoff berth in Group 4A. Now, once in the postseason provided they get there, it'll be a challenge dealing with the '757' area teams with great speed and better depth like Phoebus, Lake Taylor, Heritage, Norcom and King's Fork.

Matthew Hatfield has covered football and basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail [email protected], and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk Saturdays at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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