If the Pioneers want to find success this fall, it will start by stopping opponents from scoring at will. Warren County allowed over 35 points per game last year, including closing last season by giving up 50-plus points in back-to-back games.
Coach Matt Turner will be giving the team a new look this fall and one strength he may have to rely on is a veteran group on the back end. The Pioneers return three players with starting experience in the secondary and have added several athletes who may emerge early.
CJ Taylor, who had two of the team’s six interceptions last fall, will be back in the secondary, as will Dante Elam and Eli Buchanan. Buchanan, a rising senior, has the most experience of the group, though Taylor and Elam showed early flashes as sophomores last season.
“Experience is invaluable,” said secondary coach Camron Bond. “When you have three guys coming back who have all started game in the secondary, it helps everything.”
The knowledge of the starters is helping accelerate the learning curve on a new defense, which will allow the Pioneers to be less predictable than in the past. The level of athleticism among the group won’t hurt things either.
“I think some of the new guys that have shown up this year have elevated our athleticism in the secondary,” said Bond.
Lacedrick Cox and Malachi Rippy are playing football for the first time as seniors. Both could be in the mix for starting spots. Joseph Lanier, Tony Curtis, Isaak Beasley and Xander Lee are also working for snaps in the secondary.
Here’s a 3-2-1 breakdown of the Pioneer secondary
1. It’s no secret around the hallways in Warren County that Taylor may be the best athlete in the school. He showed it on the gridiron and hardwood last fall. At a little over 6-foot tall and bulking up to nearly 200 pounds, Taylor’s size seems to be prototypical for the new wave of secondary players. If Taylor goes to the next level, his best chance may be on defense.
2. As it’s been at most positions, coach Turner’s dogged recruiting of the hallways looks to have paid off again. Cox and Rippy give the Pioneers a pair of guys who won’t look mismatched on islands this fall. If their ability to grasp the concepts of the position matches their athletic abilities, Warren County will be tough to beat over the top.
3. Elam and Buchanan give the defense some fluidity. Elam has played mostly corner, but he’s the type of athlete who can play centerfield and keep players in line. Buchanan is much the same, with his knowledge of all positions helping the team get aligned.
Can Pioneers make teams inefficient? – Warren County didn’t give up a lot of passing yards last year – only 110 per game. The problem was opponents were highly successful at making plays when they did want to pass. Of the 87 completions the Pioneers surrendered, 21 went for touchdowns. Add in a 61.3 percent completion percentage allowed and the Pioneers were susceptible against air attacks.
How quick does the new look click? The system the Pioneers want to employ this fall, which will maximize the athletes on the field in the back end, isn’t like anything they’ve done in previous years. It’s not highly complex – at least not in the first year – but it’s still going to need to be ironed out.
Playing a team like DeKalb County, which has historically liked to test the Pioneers through the air, will put the secondary in the crosshairs early.
When this group gets its hands on the ball, they’re not going to be content with a turnover. Taylor, Elam, Buchanan and the bunch want to score. Warren County will have at least one pick-six this fall.
This is part five of a 10-part series breaking down the Pioneers. Next up is the linebackers coming Friday, Aug. 2.