2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Albemarle Bulldogs
Of the four county high school football teams in Stanly, Albemarle got the fewest chances to play on the field in the spring.
The Bulldogs only had three games last season, losing to Chatham Central and North Stanly before a final-week season win over South Davidson.
Richard Davis, entering his fifth season as the Bulldogs’ coach, ranks fifth among Albemarle coaches in wins since the school joined the NCHSAA in 1977 with 15. Davis is 15-24 with the Bulldogs since 2017.
Davis led the Bulldogs to a road playoff win in 2019, the first playoff win for Albemarle since 2013. The coach has led Albemarle to the playoffs in three of his four years as its head coach.
Here are five questions for Coach Davis as the 2021 season opens Aug. 20:
1) The 2020 season for your program had to be frustrating in that you only got to play three games in the season. How difficult was it to keep the program going in the face of the obstacles the pandemic gave yourself and your coaching staff? Considering you had improved the team’s win totals twice in your tenure at Albemarle, how important is this season coming up for the program?
This past season was easily the most difficult season I’ve ever been a part of. To say it was frustrating is clearly an understatement. It was extremely difficult to build team chemistry or establish any type of rhythm.
I tell our team all the time that tough times don’t last — tough people do. The returning players who went through that difficult season have grown tremendously as a result and those experiences will help us this upcoming season as we look to continue to improve our win total and playoff success.
2) Who are the key players for the Bulldogs on offense and who are the newcomers who will be relied on immediately?
Offensively, everything begins with the play of our offensive line. We’re expecting Zach Schrump, Miles Gregory and Manuel Sanchez to be key contributors on our offensive line.
Jaylen Pinkney, Malik Watkins, Yiterain Pergee, and Jaliq McCrae will carry the load in the backfield, while C.J. Ellis, Jason Wall and D’Amani Wall will be guys we count on to come down with key receptions for us.
One newcomer to keep an eye out for will be Ja’Zyion Geiger, who will contribute in multiple ways this season. At quarterback, we have Ander Artis and Dre Davis working extremely hard to lead our offense.
3) Albemarle lost several key defenders from last season. Who are the returning players who will have to step up and do more, and who is new to the team who could make a big impact?
Defensively, we lost a lot up front and we’re counting heavily on T.J. Rushing, Malik Watkins, Mile Gregory, Jaylen Pinkney and Tyquan McDonald to step up and fill those voids as leaders on our defense. Miles and Tyquan will anchor us up front as TJ and Malik will steady us at linebacker.
In the secondary, Jaylen Pinkney is a returning All-Conference selection; his play at safety will be vital to the success of our defense. Kaine McLendon and Vince Gregory are two newcomers who will be counted on to be key contributors on defense.
4) With the new additions to the conference of Mount Pleasant and Jay M. Robinson, how has the landscape of the conference changed and what are the biggest challenges for Albemarle moving forward?
I have always considered the Yadkin Valley to be one of the tougher conferences in the state and the conference just got tougher with the additions of Mount Pleasant and Jay M. Robinson.
When you include Union Academy, you’re talking about adding three more physical teams to an already physical league.
Our biggest challenges will be building and maintaining depth on roster as every week will be a challenge.
5) Where overall is the program in terms of where you wanted it to be when you first started as head coach in 2017?
The program is heading in the right direction.
In 2019, we had our best finish in the conference and we were a couple of “questionable” calls away from playing for at least a share of the conference title.
While it seems like we never got a chance to build off that momentum because of the pandemic, I can still tell that we’re on the cusp of greatness here at Albemarle.
We may be one of the youngest teams in the state, but I have a great group of young men who work hard and I’m really excited about this season and the seasons to come.