By Gabriel Stovall
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Ian McIntyre’s appetite has grown quite substantially since the Whitewater Wildcats played their last football game.
The rising senior defensive back and running back is hungry for the football, and he’s not ashamed to say that he wants to touch it more than he did last season.
“I started on defense last year and got a couple of runs on offense last year,” McIntyre said. “But I’m looking to start (at running back) this year. Last year there were more mouths to feed, so to speak. You know, everybody had to play. I wasn’t trying to be too greedy last year.”
But this year’s a different story.
And with just three returners from the 2014 state playoff team coming back on either side of the ball, Whitewater coach Amos McCreary won’t mind a little greed from perhaps his most experienced and talented Wildcat.
“Ian’s like having a coach on the field out there,” McCreary said. “At practice today, you see our secondary coach was gone, and we didn’t miss a beat. He’s out there looking over here and over there. He’s telling people where to get over, how they’ve gotta line up. When you don’t have a lot of vets out there, you’d better have some guys like Ian on the field.”
As the only football coach the program’s ever had — Whitewater opened in 2004 — McCreary knows better than anyone what it’s going to take to help the Wildcats be successful. Whitewater’s had just one non-winning season — a 5-5 campaign in 2009 — in 12 seasons of football.
Other than the 2004 and 2005 seasons when the program, then in infancy stage, played a paired down schedule, Whitewater has only missed the postseason twice — in 2009 and 2010. That means the playoff expectations are firmly entrenched. But having your most inexperienced team ever can do a lot to change your goals, if not your expectations.
“It’s one day at a time,” McCreary said. “It’s only three weeks into the summer right now, but we’re getting better every day. It may be a thing where we it may not be very good at first. Our non-region schedule is traditionally good, and we don’t have any patsies there. It may be where hopefully we can keep getting better every week, and hopefully do something at the end of the season to get back to the state playoffs.”
That’s where McIntyre’s seasoning and skill comes in.
The 5-foot-11 rising senior anchored a solid defense with his 60 tackles, eight pass breakups and one interception. But he also showed promise at tailback with 397 rushing yards on 51 carries and 40 receiving yards on a pair of catches.
With an enlarged role, his ability to produce and make big plays to spark the Wildcats early in the season will be vital, especially on offense, considering McCreary’s quarterback situation.
It’s a battle between Nick Watson, more of a traditional pocket passer and dual-threat signal caller Jerrell Jenkins. The two will be vying to fill the void left by the graduation of Jay Ashley, last year’s starter.
And if McCreary had to trot his team out this Friday to play a game, while he says Watson would probably get the nod, he was quick to point out that Jenkins wouldn’t be far behind — even going so far as to suggest the remote possibility of a two-platoon system under center.
“Nick played some last year, so he’d probably be the starter now, but Jenkins has a lot of talent throwing the ball,” the coach said. “He’s real rusty since he didn’t play last year, but he can throw the ball. He can run. Right now it could be experience that wins or talent. Who knows?
“We’ll figure it out the next few weeks with 7-on-7s. They both know they’re competing for the job, and sometimes you may have a situation where you can play two guys in an offense where one is better on the running end and the other can throw it. Right now we have no clue.”
The unsureness is uncharted territory for the veteran coach, who said that with the plethora of inexperience across the board, he and his staff will “probably have to do our best job of coaching in years.”
“There’s gotta be a whole lot more listening going on out there with these guys,” McCreary said. “Last year we had some guys that we didn’t really have to worry about. But this year there’s a lot more teaching that’s going to have to happen. We can’t just sit here and say, ‘He’s got it.'”
Although when you hear the coach talk about McIntyre,it’s easy to believe the senior safety’s “got it.”
“He’s been starting since he was a sophomore,” he said. “Ian studies football. He knows the game. Plus he’s got a whole lot of speed and talent. Those three things in a combo are pretty good. He’s definitely going to lead us.”
And McIntyre doesn’t mind.
“Being the guy this year, I feel like the pressure’s going to be on my back to make more plays this year and to just be that coach on the field,” McIntyre said. “I won’t say that we’ve got less talent out here, but I think as we mold these guys and get them into their positions, this team, and especially this defense, can be better this year.”
As for expectations, while the coach on the sideline is being understandably cautious, the coach on the field doesn’t think it unreasonable to look for this year’s team to resemble the 2012 squad — McIntyre’s freshman year — that went 12-2, and was a two touchdown loss to Gainesville away from playing for a state title.
“Last year things were a bit iffy with us changing defenses and all,” he said. “But this year I feel like I can get some takeaways (on defense). I feel like if everybody continues to work this year, state championship. I don’t see why we couldn’t.”