Eagles looking for new leaders on defensive side this fall

Despite the loss of numerous key contributors on defense, Eastern Alamance returns four skilled veteran linebackers, including senior Will Burnette (No. 30). Burnette, who earned All-Conference honors during the fall, will join forces with Joey Teixeira, Carter Stallings, and Payton Wright to give the Eagles one of the top linebacking corps in the area. With much uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball heading into the new season, EAHS head coach John Kirby will be relying on Burnette and the Eagles' defense to help the team push through its demanding early-season schedule. 

As the Eastern Alamance High football team prepares for the upcoming fall 2021 season, head coach John Kirby and the Eagles are not only looking to replace many graduated seniors, but also defensive coordinator Patrick Stokes, who recently accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater, Williams High School. While the Eagles have several returning veterans, EAHS must replace several multi-year starters who were not only major contributors, but also key team leaders. 

“We lost defensive linemen Austin Kimrey and Cole Jordan. Cole Jordan was a three-year starter for us. Austin Kimrey was an All-Conference player. Year before last, we lost Jordan Moore, who went to Charlotte (to play collegiately),” said Kirby in a recent interview. “Jackson Stokes and Evan Powell were great leaders. There’s a reason that they’re going on (to play college football). Evan got his Eagle Scout Award, and Jackson is going on to Washington and Lee (University in Virginia). They’re both high academic, high-quality young men. To lose them in the secondary, it’s a big void to fill. But I think if you look at those younger guys, they’re just going to have to fill in and make it happen.”

The good news for Kirby and the Eagles - as is typically the case with Eastern High football - is that there are multiple youngsters eager to step and adequately replace those departed veterans. 

Success breeds success. And while it’s always difficult losing major contributors, the Eagles coaching staff is looking forward to seeing which young players set themselves up to be the next playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. 

Up front along the defensive line, despite the loss of Kimrey and Jordan, the Eagles are returning multiple starters. Senior Jamar Burton, who recorded 14 tackles and one tackle for loss last fall, and Jake Libbey, a senior who had 41 tackles, two sacks, and five tackles for loss in the spring season, gives the Eagles a solid base. Libbey, Eastern’s top-returning tackler along the defensive line, is a multi-positional player who has been with the Eagles varsity going back to the 2019 season. 

“Jamar Burton is back. He was a starter for us last year along the defensive line,” Coach Kirby explained. “Jake Libbey is kind of that hybrid guy, who will be a three-year varsity player. He can play defensive end if we’re in a four-man front, and he can also play outside linebacker if we’re in that three-man front.”

EAHS also brings back tenth grader Javontae Poteet, a defensive end who was one of three Eagle freshmen to crack the varsity this past spring. Poteet, who contributed 41 tackles, two sacks, and five tackles for loss as a ninth grader, has a golden opportunity this fall to have a breakout sophomore season. Another potential major contributor along the defensive line for the Eagles is tackle Hudson Faulkner, a junior who does double duty along both the offensive and defensive fronts. Faulkner produced nine tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack during the abbreviated spring season. 

“Javontae Poteet was a big surprise last year. He ended up starting some games for us as a freshman,” said Kirby. “That’s unheard of - that doesn’t really happen. We think that his future is very bright. He might be one of those guys to be able to sit there one day and pick this hat or this hat, because he’s going to be very good. Then Hudson Faulkner is another one. In theory, there’s some pretty good ones up front.” 

Along with the returnees up front defensively, Kirby is excited about the potential of a pair of junior defensive linemen who are moving up to the varsity squad this fall after spending the last couple of seasons playing for the Eagles’ junior varsity team. 

“Sherone Scruggs and Asher Towns, those are defensive lineman names that you may hear,” Kirby explained. 

Despite numerous major losses on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the Eagles have considerable returning stability at the linebacker position, with Joey Teixeira, Will Burnette, Carter Stallings, and Payton Wright all coming back to play prominent roles. 

Teixeira, a senior, cracked the varsity rotation in 2018 as a freshman and started 15 games for the Eagles in 2019 as a sophomore, but was unable to play this past spring. Burnette, a senior, is Eastern’s leading returning tackler, having made 77 tackles last season along with a tackle for a loss and a team-high two interceptions to earn All-Mid-State Conference honors. Wright made a major contribution in the spring as a freshman, finishing with 50 tackles and two tackles for loss. Like fellow sophomore Poteet, Wright has a chance this fall to step up as one of the Eagles’ future leaders on defense. 

EAHS also brings back Stallings, the team’s second-leading returning tackler. Stallings, a senior, brought down 64 ball carriers last season to go along with four tackles for loss and a sack. In Teixeira, Burnette, Wright, and Stallings, Eastern has a standout veteran linebacking core that will not only gobble up opposing running backs and receivers, but also help bring along some of the newcomers on the Eagles defense. 

“We have Joey and Will at the inside (linebacker) spot,” Coach Kirby explained. “Carter Stallings played a lot last year on the outside, along with Payton Wright. Payton ended up playing inside linebacker for us as a freshman when Joey wasn’t able to play.”

Despite the loss of three-year starter Stokes, Eastern’s leading tackler a season ago, the Eagles have the presence of multiple talented players in the secondary, including Dontrell Lee, Gabe Ocampo and Gage Parsons. Lee, a senior, had 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, and seven pass deflections during the spring season. Ocampo and Parsons, a pair of juniors, are stepping up to the EAHS varsity after playing on the Eagles’ JV squad in 2019 and this past spring.  

“Dontrell Lee started last year for us in the secondary, and he’s returning. That gives us someone who at least has some knowledge of what we’re trying to do in the secondary,” said Kirby. “Gabe Ocampo and Gage Parsons, I think they are going to be okay.”

In addition to Lee, Ocampo and Parsons, the Eagles could wind up working senior Kasen McCawley into the secondary as well. A versatile player who has spent time at quarterback, running back, and receiver for the Eagles, McCawley has the athleticism and experience to be a major help to the EAHS defensive back rotation. 

“You’ll probably see Kasen a little bit of everywhere,” Kirby said. “We don’t typically play our (backup) quarterback on the defensive side, but Kasen is going to play some in the secondary, and he’ll play some receiver. You’ll probably see him some at quarterback, and some at running back as well.”

With the combination of seasoned veterans coming back into the fold this fall, along with so many exciting younger players, Coach Kirby believes the EAHS defense could be this team’s strong point. He anticipates the defense being essential in helping the Eagles stay in some of their challenging early-season games against the likes of Eastern Randolph, Northern Guilford, Reidsville, and Western Alamance as the offense gains its footing. 

“Defensively, with the linebacking corps that we’ve got back, I think defensively we could be pretty good,” the longtime Eastern High coach added. “It may be one of those things where the defensive guys have to keep us in it.”