Don’t call it reloading. Don’t even call it rebuilding. What the Career Academy Phoenix football team has to do to withstand a plethora of graduation losses will amount to a major reconstruction job this fall. The swagger- and the talent- may be a thing of the past.
When high school football camps open around the state of Missouri this week, the Career Academy Phoenix will have a markedly different look to their lineup and their losses will almost certainly help league rival Gateway Tech gain on them in the conference race for supremacy.
In fact, the Jaguars’ stunning 7-6 playoff win over Career Academy could have signaled the changing of the guard anyway. After all, Career Academy had won three straight Public High League regular season titles, including a 41-6 romp over Gateway just a few short weeks earlier. But it could be argued that the Phoenix were without its injured star running back Marquis Stewart in the rematch, so they weren’t at full strength. However, Stewart, starting quarterback Jaylen James, receivers Javon Collard and Alijah Fuelen and defense standouts Valentino Armendariz, Rasheen Bolden, Darrell Collins, Elbert Dogan and Travis Riley, among others, graduated from the Phoenix. In terms of two-way offensive production, James and Stewart may have arguably been the best one-two punch in Public High League history. T
At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, James struck fear in defensive players the way bruising runners would.He passed for 1,835 yards and ran for 1,203 yards and 20 touchdowns. Meanwhile Stewart averaged a robust 11 yards per carry in rushing for 1,399 yards and was even more spectacular in yards after a catch by amassing over 600 yards receiving on just 24 catches. To put into perspective how much production the Phoenix will be losing just consider this fact: they graduated players who amassed 2,502 of a total 2,868 rushing yards and 1,640 of a total 1,900 receiving yards- and that’s just the offensive losses! On defense they graduated an array of all-conference caliber players, such as Valentino Armendariz, Rasheen Bolden, Darrell Collins, Elbert Dogan and Travis Riley, among others, who were either the tackle, sack or interception leaders the last couple of seasons.
But primed to step to the forefront of the PHL race appears to be those same Jaguars, who pushed Career Academy to overtime before losing two seasons ago and engineered the monumental playoff upset last year.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Gateway star running back Dominique Holman, who drive-sustaining runs keyed the win, recently recalled. “Heading into my senior year my teammates and I are very confident this year.”
Holman rushed for 1,414 yards behind an offensive line of underclassmen, all of whom are expected back: tackles Devontay Anderson and Aaron Williams, center Myles Reed and guards Bryce Allen and Terrell Cooper. The Jaguars also return two-year starter Antonio Cunningham at quarterback and a topnotch receiver in Donnell Williams. Cunningham completed 110 of 180 attempts for 1,583 yards and Williams snared 32 passes for 627 yards, as the Jaguars posted a 7-5 campaign. Since then the Jaguars have been busy-and winning- in the off-season, for what it’s worth, in 7-on-7 tournaments. They won a tourney at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
“We don’t downplay the importance of 7-on7s,” noted Gateway coach Jason Dulick. “While we know the game is won or lost in the tranches, we have a philosophy that 7-on7 is very important for getting your timing down with quarterbacks and receivers. On defense it is important for the defensive backs and linebackers to understand coverages they might see during the season. We also feel that it (7-on-7s) build team chemistry.”
That team chemistry should certainly help a Jaguars team even more this season, on the heels of that 7-6 conquest of a Career Academy team, which at one juncture in the season looked like it was on a collision course to meet perennial Class 4 state championship Webb City. Instead Career Academy fell to a league foe early in the postseason.
“To this day I still get a big thrill in my heart that we beat them that night,” recalled Holman. “I dream about it all the time. This year is only going to be even better because both of us (Gateway and Career Academy) are going to have a chip on our shoulder.”
Of course it remains to be seen if the Jaguars can sustain that momentum or if Career Academy’s cast of new starters and new players can sustain their club’s momentum from recent seasons. Linebacker Joseph Stevenson and emerging star, cornerback Kevin Calloway are two potential impact players for the Phoenix who have had big moments in varsity action. However, the rest of the Phoenix standouts may have to emerge from the junior varsity or substitute ranks, which will make training camp much more challenging for veteran PHL coach Sorrell Harvey.
But by the same token, that’s what training camp is all about: building or refining lineups and systems. Elsewhere around the league, a resurgent Roosevelt Rough Riders program will have to find a way to replace a bevy of standout players and leaders to graduation, such as Robert Beason, Deante Campbell, Mark Clay, George Calmese, Jevante Phillips, Corey Watson, Keon Watson and others. Campbell is the son of head coach DeAndre Campbell and was the club’s starting quarterback the last few seasons. Soldan was another contender hit hard by graduation but return a few impact pieces, such as defensive lineman Jaylen Bohannon and quarterback Ronald Clower. With Career Academy’s prized quarterback James, who signed with Quincy University(Ill.), now gone the league will be ripe to usher in the next breakout signal-caller.