The first year of the Dennie McDaniel era on Crowfield Boulevard yielded a playoff spot for the second year in a row and the Stratford Knights also retained a hold on bragging rights in the city championship.
Coach McDaniel’s squad is aiming to take another step forward in 2019. They were 4-7 overall and 2-3 in Region 7-AAAAA, winning one more game than the two previous seasons combined.
“I feel good about where we are as a program and how we’re developing,” McDaniel said. “I feel like we’ll be in more ballgames than we were last year. We still have a lot of room to grow and a lot of development to occur. Really it boils down to what our kids are willing to do.”
The Knights make a road trip to St. Stephen on Aug. 23 to tangle with the Timberland Wolves, one of the most consistent winners in the state. The Wolves are No. 3 in Class 2A entering the season.
The Knights then host Stall on Aug. 30.
Stratford defeated both teams a year ago to shove off to a 2-0 start.
“We’ve added numbers, which has helped competition,” McDaniel said. “Our practices are more competitive. Guys know if they don’t perform their reps are going to get cut. That, in essence, prepares you for the game.”
There is a solid group returning from 2018, especially in the skill department on both sides of the ball.
Junior wide receiver Damarius Anderson has a Div. I build and looks headed that direction after high school. He made 37 grabs for 585 yards and six touchdowns in 2018.
Receiver Jaylin Hayward is another receiver back in the mix. He made 22 grabs for 142 yards last season. More receivers are David Washington and Matthew Cudd.
Josh Davis is the new starter at quarterback and will have Jaedon Alston as the top running back. Anderson figures to also get his share of touches in creative ways.
The cornerstone up front is college prospect Thomas Blackmon (6-3, 260) at left guard. Blackmon is the lone starter returning on the line and McDaniel calls him one of the school’s best.
“I’ve been around this program a long time and he has the potential to rank right up there as one of the best linemen to come out of here,” McDaniel said.
Other starting linemen are left tackle Shaun Manigault, center Jonathan Eaton, right guard Bailey Jones and right tackle Antwaine Meggett.
Defensively, the Knights bring back three starters and have switched up their base formation to try and get more hats to the ball as quickly as possible.
“We took a look at what we wanted to do and we wanted to get a lot more speed on the field,” McDaniel said. “We’ve gone to more of a 3-5-3 look and preach rallying to the football.”
Lineman Nick Barkley was a starter last season and made eight tackles in the season-opening win at Timberland before missing most of the season with a knee injury.
Josh Phelps and Meech Holman are the other projected starters up front.
The linebackers are Jadon Wilcox, Mason Lord and Sean Kohut. Tamir Simons and Maurice Morgan are returning starters at safety.
The defensive backs are Jaivon Taylor, Jakai Robinson and Justin Jordan
On special teams, Jordan Ray is the kicker and Adam Beard the punter.