Kell’s Brett Sloan enters his second season as a head coach with the confidence that, following a year of building his system, his players feel more comfortable in the day-to-day workings and will be ahead of the curve. The experience, Sloan feels, will breed a few more W’s in the win column and, possibly, a deeper playoff run after the team fell to Flowery Branch in the first round last season.
“I think we are way ahead of where we were last year, as far as a knowledge standpoint goes,” Sloan said. “Our kids are familiar with the system and we’re not in the middle of a transition, you could say. I think that gives us a little bit of a head start. We are replacing quite a bit on offense but we feel like we can build around Evan [Conley] at quarterback and we have some young and skilled guys that we feel like we can bring along.”
The Longhorns will rely heavily on eight returning starters on the defensive side of the ball and tremendous confidence has been placed on the experienced starters to help guide the others.
“Defensively, we are returning eight starters,” Sloan said. “So we are going to lean on that side of the ball for a little while, I think. We have a good returning corps at the linebacker spot that I think will be led by Branson Hall. He was a sophomore who, I feel, was one of our most consistent linebackers last year. He’s coming off an injury, but he will be back. [We will] plug in a couple of young guys like Cameron Ball, who played a lot for us at safety. But he is going to play a lot on defense. There’s a young guy who got hurt against Rome last year, Nate Woghiren, who is going to be a really good player for us at linebacker.”
“There’s Andrew Parlato on the defensive line, he was second-team all-region as a sophomore,” Sloan continued. “We have a couple of other sophomores who played a lot in Marcus Anderson and Vincent Dinkins. We have another returning defensive end who will be a senior in Justin Holt. He’s a bit undersized but he is very quick and causes some problems for people.”
Focus will be key as the Longhorns enter the 2018 season. Last season, Kell’s lapses of focus, Sloan feels, let several close games slip away, including the 28-27 loss to Tucker in overtime at Georgia State Stadium in the Corky Kell Classic. The Longhorns had two other closely contested losses as they fell to Lassiter 38-35 and Carrollton 45-42. Turn those three games — decided by a total of seven points — around, and a 5-6 season turns into an 8-3 showing. This year, Sloan hopes to keep his team zoned in.
“They know what inconsistency can do to us,” Sloan said. “I feel like last year, there were spurts where we played really good defense but then sometimes we would lose our focus, our eyes wouldn’t be in the right place, we wouldn’t play our technique and we wouldn’t do some of the small things that you have to do every down on defense. I think they understand the implications now and I think that will help us on the defensive side of the ball.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Kell, which is only returning three starters, will draw on quarterback Evan Conley’s talents to lead the charge. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior was 179-of-285 passing for 2,240 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, adding four rushing touchdowns.
“It’s just his experience,” Sloan said of his quarterback. “He has started every game of his high school career except one. He started every game as a freshman but there was one game last year that he didn’t start, because of injury. He actually came in the game in the second half and brought us back to a victory against East Paulding. There’s just no situation that Evan hasn’t seen and no situation that he hasn’t been in. Just that calming presence and that experience is going to be big for us as we grow some of our younger players up on that side of the ball.”
One of Conley’s targets will be senior Sammy Blancato. The 5-10, 170-pound receiver caught 19 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns last season. Sloan is excited to see Blancato’s numbers swell in his senior season.
“We are excited about Sammy,” Sloan said. “He just comes to work, does the right things every day, knows what to do. He is a competitor. No one on the football field out-competes Sammy. He will fight for the ball, he is a really, really good high school football player and we are excited about what he is going to do this year. He is just a great competitor and will do whatever it takes to win.”
Another option through the air is returning senior Leo Deltin. The 5-9, 170-pound slot receiver started 10 games for the Longhorns last season and will be expected to distract attention from Blancato.
“He is a very experienced player and we look for him to build on his numbers,” Sloan said of Deltin. “He will be a guy that we lean on a lot.”
Kell’s 2018 Schedule
8-18 at East Coweta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
8-31 vs. Lassiter
9-7 vs. Rome
9-14 at East Paulding
9-28 at Paulding County
10-5 vs. Villa Rica
10-12 at Carrollton
10-19 vs. Cass
10-26 at Hiram
11-2 vs. Woodland-Cartersville