BY DAN STICKRADT
PONTIAC — Perhaps new Pontiac football coach Damian Redmond has his work cut out for him.
During the opening week of training camp, only around 50 players showed up. There is no freshman team at Pontiac. The bench will be thin. The facilities don’t match up to most of the other schools in the three-division Oakland Activities Association.
Yet, the Phoneix still went 6-3 during the regular season last year under former coach Brad Zube and still reached the postseason. Can Pontiac still thrive despite the disadvantages?
“We have a lot of very good athletes,” admitted Redmond at a recent practice. “We’ll see how we do. We lost most of our starters.”
Since the merger of Pontiac Northern and Pontiac Central in 2008, Pontiac has made the postseason twice, including 2009 and 2011. That could be difficult coming out of the OAA Red Division this season, where several other programs are back on the rise, including Troy, Rochester and Rochester Stoney Creek. Clarkston, Lake Orion and Troy Athens all made the postseason a year ago.
The Phoenix only return three full-time starters — and they are good ones.
Senior Jody Harrison (5-10, 175) was an all-league quarterback last season and is a heady player with great speed. Senior Trajan Seay (6-0, 170) is another explosive player and is on the radar of numerous Division I schools as both a wide-receiver and defensive back.
The other mainstay is senior Blake Samuels (6-2, 240), a monster in the trenches who will suit up as an offensive tackle and defensive end.
The coaching staff hopes that senior Roosevelt Wheeler can mature, be focused and have a breakout year. Wheeler, who plays receiver, tight end and defensive back, is a standout track and field sprinter with plenty of potential.
Senior Blake Daniels will lead the linebackers unit, while Charles Walker, Moses Miles and Tavares Miles are three two-way lineman hoping to make to slide into a starting role and immediate impact.
The Phoenix do not lack size and speed. They do lack varsity experience, which could especially in the early phases of the season.
“We graduated almost everybody,” sighed Redmond. We do have some speed and some very good players. We’ll be fundamentally sound. But when you’re a new coach coming in with a different system and trying to replace most of the starting lineup from the previous year, it’s never easy. We’re going to be very young with a lot of underclassmen and players that are on their first season of varsity. We’ll see how long it takes for us to gel.”
HEAD COACH: Damian Redmond, first season.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Damon Odneal, Kerry Tolbert, Harry Porter, Lorenzo Robertson, William Gholston, Sam Rogers, Henry Jackson
2011 RECORD: 6-4, 4-3 OAA Red Division (fourth); Postseason: Lost to Clarkston (40-12) in Division 1 pre-districts.
POSTSEASON APPEARANCES: 2, 2009, 2011; Before Merger: Pontiac Central (1991, 1995, 2001, 2007); Pontiac Northern (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007).
RETURNING STARTERS: Jody Harrison, sr. QB-DB (5-10, 175); Blake Samuels, sr. DE-OT (6-2, 240); Trajan Seay, sr. WR-DB (6-0, 170).
KEY PROSPECTS: Most of the starting lineup will be first-year starters. Roosevelt Wheeler, sr. WR-TE-DB; Blake Daniels, sr. LB-RB; Charles Walker, sr. OL-DL; Tavares Miles, sr. OL-DL; Moses Miles, sr. OL-DL.
NOTABLES: Hard times could be upon Pontiac’s first-year coaching staff. Numbers have dropped to around 50 players in grades 9-12 and most of the starters were lost to graduation, lack of interest or disciplinary reasons. Meanwhile, as enrollment keeps dropping overall just a few short years after the merger, the other teams in the OAA Red are all slated for better years and the Phoenix must better mature and come together in a hurry if they are able to remain a playoffs-caliber team.
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