Page had a successful 7-4 season with a playoff win last year, but can the Patriots duplicate that as they move up to 5-A in 2017?
That’s the question before Page coach Charles Rathbone this fall. And when Rathbone speaks, it seems even he’s not sure.
“We’ve got some experience coming back in spots; quarterback and offensive line come to mind,” Rathbone said, moments after a scrimmage 17-0 loss to Brentwood last Friday. “And then, we get very young after that. Quarterback and receiver, we’re extremely young. They didn’t get a whole lot of playing time on defense last year. We’ve got a whole new core of linebackers and secondary guys.
So we’re going young in a lot of positions, and it shows in spots out here tonight that we’re very young.”
Van Landingham leads a prolific offense
Rathbone tailors his offense to fit his limitations. That’s been a good move. The Patriots averaged 28.6 points a game in 2016.
“We’ve never had the big offensive line where we can run the ball. … We decided to go with smaller linemen and go with a screen game so they can pull out there and be fullbacks, for the most part. It’s worked pretty well,” he says.
Mobile quarterback Jacob Van Landingham, a senior, leads the group again. He’ll operate some from the pistol, and at other times, under center. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 1,629 yards last year and ran for 611 more, with a combined 23 touchdowns.
“He’s been in the system for three years now,” Rathbone says. “He knows the reads, he knows the plays, he’s got a lot of athleticism where he can run the ball and has a great arm. He works hard and he studies.
“He’s just got all the intangibles. If he was another three to four inches, I think he’d be sought after by a lot of major universities, but I think that’s what separates the major universities from the small schools.”
Will Pierce, an all-region player who led Page in receiving last year, returns.
So does bruising, 200-pound running back Bubba Johnson. He who seized the job as a freshman late in the season and ran for over 1,300 yards.
Veterans Will Rathbone (the coach’s son) and Jonathan Harris return to lead the offensive line. The two have started since their sophomore seasons and made the all-region squad last year.
Defense makes the most of limited size
Limitations have also forced Rathbone’s hand on defense.
“We’ll run a 3-4 and we’ll probably be a pressure-heavy type team,” Rathbone said. “It’s much easier to come up with three down linemen than four down linemen. If you can’t come up with three down linemen, you can come up with a 200-pound kid who can move, and put him at nose, and slant him either way.
That said, the Patriots aren’t small across the front this year. Rathbone and Harris (270 pounds) start on that line, too, with nose Chris Allsop (240) in between.
Transfer Michael Burdick, who sat out last season, could be the defense’s breakout star.
“He’s made plays all over the place on offense and defense,” Rathbone said. “We played one scrimmage, he had three interceptions against Giles County and their quarterback is committed to Tennessee-Martin. He’s an athlete who’s going to pay some dividend on us.
Expect sophomore linebacker Austin Harshaw to make an impact, too.
All the change takes Page tough to figure.
On one hand, Rathbone has his concerns. Matching up with a 6-A Brentwood team last Friday exposed many of them. The roster has just 62 players. Youth, the secondary, and overall team speed are concerns that the Bruins exposed.
On the other, most of the schedule should be a step down from playing the Bruins. Rathbone likes his offensive and defensive line; that’s something most coaches can’t say. The Van Landingham-Pierce-Johnson trio will make plenty of plays.
Without a true powerhouse team in the seven-squad region, the Patriots can be a factor in Region 5-5A.