New leadership, same expectations
There are plenty of new faces at Sun Valley High as summer football hits its stride, but the Spartans are hoping there are enough old ones left to help carry the tradition established a decade ago.
The biggest new face is at the very top of the football hierarchy. For the first time in 11 years, Scott Stein isn’t roaming the sideline at Spartan Stadium. Stein accepted the head coaching job at Myers Park and took a handful of assistant coaches with him, including Courtney Furr, who was Stein’s No. 2 on offense.
Paul Hall was hired in early June to replace Stein, and among the coaches returning under the new regime is defensive coordinator Rocky Richar.
Then there are the players themselves. Sun Valley returns a majority of starters on both sides of the ball on the heels of a 7-3 regular season that included a share of the Southern Carolina Conference league title and a trip to the quarterfinals of the 4A state playoffs.
“We’ve got a lot of returning starters coming back,” said junior defensive lineman Tyler Griffiths, himself a returning starter. “It’s kind of a different environment. I like (Hall) a lot, he’s a good dude, I think he’s a good coach. He seems like he’s going to be really good addition to Sun Valley.”
Hall hasn’t changed much in the way of schemes because of the late start. Offensively, the Spartans will still be based out of shotgun.
And of course, they still have running back Albert Funderburk. As a sophomore last season, Funderburk rushed for 2,032 yards and 24 touchdowns on 253 attempts.
He’ll be the focal point of a more run-based offense — and why wouldn’t he be? -- but the Spartans also plan to spread teams out and throw the ball. Judging by the team’s performance last week at a 7-on-7 against Forest Hills, the Spartans are ahead of schedule.
“I know we had a bunch of touchdowns and lot of completions (in the 7-in-7),” Griffiths said. “We know the other team is going to stack seven or eight in the box this year, and leave our receivers in man (coverage), and we have to take advantage of that.”
The two principals of Sun Valley’s passing attacked are gone, but everyone else returns. Quarterback Kevin Saxton (2,622 passing yards, 27 touchdowns) and leading receiver Ty Thompson have graduated, and their replacements appear to be senior QB Isah Meric and senior WR Nigel Wiley.
Meric was Saxton’s backup last year, and the only varsity quarterback to take snaps in the 7-on-7. Wiley was second on the team in receiving yards in 2012 and easily had the highest average yards per reception (15.3) on the team.
Behind them, complementary receivers Alden McKellar, Courtland Stout and Terrence Blount all started at some point last year.
The offensive line lost all three of its 300-pound starters, but returns junior center Corey Keels and senior Jake Beachum, who is up to 290 pounds.
“I think Albert is obviously a workhorse, but our passing game is going to be getting big, too,” Griffiths said. “We have some really good wide receivers. I don’t think it’s going to be strictly run game, but Albert is obviously going to be a stud no matter what.”
Richar returns to oversee a defense that improved dramatically as the season went on. The secondary, in particular, is flush with experience as starting cornerbacks Codi Bryan and Courtney Brown return as juniors. Seniors Alex Sawyer and Carlos Guzman both started at times at safety, and that combined experience could help ease the loss of Cordarrius Williams.
The front seven returns four starters, including Griffiths, who was worked into the rotation slowly last year while recovering from an injury. Griffiths cinched his place on the field with a three-sack performance against Garinger in the fourth game of the year.
Griffiths also is the team’s long snapper and has honed that particular craft well enough to have colleges interested in him. He attended a camp at the University of Virginia, and coaches there liked him enough to promise a follow-up visit at the school. He’s also got another camp in Los Angeles lined up.
“It’s just a matter of practice and working hard in the weight room,” Griffiths said. “And we all worked hard in the weight room, even when we didn’t have a head coach. We didn’t slow down.”
Sun Valley's 2013
Aug. 22^vs. Charlotte Christian
Aug. 30^Hoke County
Sept. 6^at A.L. Brown
Sept. 13^at Rocky River
Sept. 20^Porter Ridge
Oct. 18^at Marvin Ridge
Oct. 25^at Weddington
Nov. 8^at Anson Co.