RONDA — After a strong 2015 season, the East Wilkes Cardinals are looking to make a deeper drive into the state playoffs this year. The Cardinals went 13-1 in the regular season, and 7-0 in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference last season. With an undefeated conference record, the Cardinals were able to make it to the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs before falling to Mitchell, 17-14. It was the second time in school history the Cardinals had made it to the third round of the playoffs.
This season, Head Coach J.K. Adkins doesn’t want this group of kids to look too far into the future, he wants them focused on their week-to-week match-ups and be present in the moment.
“Our main goal is the same as any season, for us we’re trying to focus on each week and each game as it comes,” said Adkins. “We are focused on winning and preparing for each week’s match-up by doing what we always do. We’re going to do what we can to prepare for our upcoming opponent, and not worry about any future games until the week of those games.”
This year’s team will look a little different than last year, as the Cardinals lost 18 seniors from last year’s team. The loss of the seniors won’t stop the Cardinals from carrying the momentum over from last season’s run. The Cardinals are looking strong offensively as well as defensively.
This season there will be new players to watch on offense, as the Cardinals lost two star receivers in Camon Bryan and Andrew Nance. Although they lost two players who helped carry the team, the Cardinals are returning six starters on defense and six starters on defense.
“We’re unique in the way that we have several standout players, we don’t have just one or two superstars on the team who are irreplaceable,” said Adkins. “We have a returning running back, Devin Couch, who we are also relying on this season. We also have a couple of receivers, Jared Wood, Joah Logan, Jared Poplin and Damien Reid, who are going to be outstanding for us.”
Last season Wood caught 14 passes for 321 yards, and was selected as All Conference for the MVAC. Logan had an outstanding playoff run for the Cardinals as he had two touchdowns and ran for 73 yards. At 6’1, Logan has the height and the power to be one of the star receivers the Cardinals need to replace Bryan and Nance.
Junior Bryce Vestal will be returning as this year’s quarterback for the Cardinals. Last season Vestal was put in at quarterback after starter Chris Ward took on an injury early in the season. Vestal took his new starting position in stride as he had 723 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions for the 2015 season.
On the defensive side, the Cardinals are looking strong with a pair of seniors who have stepped up to become leaders of the defensive line. Last season Andrew Elmore played linebacker and lead the team in tackles with 75 tackles, while Adam Holbrook played defensive line and had 78 tackles. On special teams, Carlos Aquino will be returning as the kicker. Last season Aquino made several crucial field goals to keep the Cardinals’ undefeated season alive.
“We have a lot of role type players,” said Adkins. “We are counting on those players to produce for us this year and get us to where we were last season.”
While East Wilkes did lose a big chunk of its team from last year, Adkins is confident it can replicate last season’s success. If it’s up to this year’s team, they hope to bypass last year’s success and bring home a State Championship for Ronda.
Kristian Russell may be reached at 336-258-4052.