The Transylvania Times -

Senior Playmakers Look To Lead Tigers' Turnaround


August 16, 2018

When you listen to Rosman head coach Matt Stack talk about his football team, you would never know they were coming off their second straight 2-10 season.

From day one, Stack has been at the forefront of changing the culture at Rosman, and even when times were hard, his confidence remained.

Now, in year two, with a senior quarterback and a potent offensive arsenal, Stack says the Tigers are outpacing his expectations and are ready to contend in the Smoky Mountain Conference.

"If you listen to guys like Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney, they'll say when you go into a new program and you change the culture, the first year, you usually get blown away. The second year, you have some close ones and you might win a few. The third year, you're in the middle of the pack and by the fourth year, you finally see things change. We're ahead of that curve," Stack said. "These kids have progressed so fast. Last year felt like year two. So, this season, I'm looking at it like it's year four."

A big part of that progress, Stack said, has been the Tigers' work in the weight room during the offseason. The players have also had a year to learn the playbook and familiarize themselves with the system.

"We're much stronger. We're bigger. And we're much faster. On top of that, they know the system now and they know the expectations. The culture is changing and it's been a great offseason," he said.

Fans got to see a glimpse of that potential during a pair of scrimmages Rosman participated in last week.

On Wednesday, the weather cut short a four-team scrimmage the Tigers hosted at Silversteen Stadium, but they got more reps last Friday during a jamboree matchup with Smoky Mountain.

At home, Rosman took on Avery, but with only roughly 10 minutes of game time, there wasn't much to evaluate.

However, against the Mustangs, Stack said he was extremely pleased with what he saw.

"We did everything we set out to accomplish," he said. "We scored on every drive. They kids executed plays correctly and we played shutdown defense."

Scoring on every drive is something Tiger fans might happily become accustomed to.

When he took over the program, Stack implemented a new spread offense and the results were immediate. The Tigers jumped from 11.6 points per game in 2016 to 21.8 points per games last year.

Rosman returns nearly every key offensive player from last year, and with senior quarterback Luke Stewart at the helm, Stack says the sky is the limit for the offense.

"We haven't even scratched the surface yet for our offensive potential. Now that the system is installed and the kids understand it, I expect us to be one of the best offensive teams in Western North Carolina," he said.

Stewart enters his senior season for the third year under center.

As a junior, he threw for 2,119 yards – more than 1,000 yards more than his sophomore season – and tripled his touchdown output with 15 TD passes.

At his disposal is possibly one of the best and deepest receiving corps in the mountains.

Leading the way is senior Samuel Chappell, who averaged nearly 100 yards receiving per game and likely would have hauled in 1,000 yards on the year if not for an injury that cost him the final four games.

Add to the mix juniors Hooper Thomas and Brennan Chapman, and Stewart will have plenty of options.

"You can't double either of those guys," said Stack, speaking of Chappell and Chapman, "because if you do, you leave the other one open. They're both great route runners and big playmakers."

Matchup wise, Stack said Thomas' combination of size and athleticism make him a nightmare for defenses.

One new addition to the receiving corps is Thomas Collins, who was the Tigers' predominant ball carrier, rushing for 1,070 yards and four touchdowns in 2017.

Senior Marcus Stamey will take over the main running duties. Stack said Stamey has embraced the new role and his increased speed and strength make him perfect for the job.

Backing up Stamey is fellow senior David Hall. Hall suffered a broken leg in week one last season and will surely look to go out with a bang in 2018.

Another change to the offense is on the sidelines, as stack brought in Austin Cooke to coach the offensive line.

Stack said Cooke has done a great job coaching the guys up front and with big bodies like Kayne Smith, Peyton McCall and Kameron Morgan in the trenches, the Tigers should have opportunities in both the run and pass game.

"Those guys have really blocked well and made our life easier on offense," he said.

On the defensive side, Rosman will have to cope with the loss of Deland Thomas and Jonathan Holliday, who finished in the top five in tackles across the mountains last year.

To fill one of those holes, Stack will look to Stewart, who will be playing on both sides of the ball this year.

Stack is also hopeful McCall can overcome a nagging knee injury and see some time at linebacker.

Those two are supported by Gavin Rutledge and Rhyland Jones, both new to the team.

Another newcomer is senior Lance Stewart, who Stack is looking for to step up big in the safety position.

"I look for him to surprise some people and make a lot of plays for us," he said.

Stack said he's also adjusted his defensive scheme to better fit his personnel and plans on running a 4-4 defense, with a mix of a 4-2-5 hybrid formation, both with the primary goal of stopping the run.

Last season, Rosman allowed 265 yards rushing per game and opposing teams converted third downs at a 45 percent rate.

Those two stats go hand-in-hand and allowed the opposition to wear down the Rosman defense.

Stack said between the changes he's made to the formation, as well as the players having a better understanding of situational play, this year's defense should be much improved.

"Last season, we didn't really understand how to play based on down and distance. So, our increased knowledge of the game is going to help in that area. And being stronger and faster will enable us to close in on those third down plays and make a tackle," he said.

Stopping the run is important for any team, but perhaps even more when you play in the bruising Smoky Mountain Conference.

Stack said it wasn't until he saw all the teams in person last season that he understood how (Cont. on 9A)


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