Rockets in rebuilding mode
Winning has been a trademark of Crittenden County’s football program. Over the past five years, the Rockets have averaged almost nine victories a season and gone deep into the playoffs several times, three times as a regional semifinalist and once a regional finalist.
It’s not hard to understand why 16th-year head coach Al Starnes is working harder than ever to shape his young players into the caliber of team that has become a hallmark of his tenure.
In the past, the Rockets have relied on a relatively strong returning class of upperclassmen to carry the load. That isn’t the case this fall. This season, coach Starnes is going to earn his pay.
Looking up and down the roster it’s clear that mostly sophomores, perhaps a freshman or two, and a handful of juniors and seniors will have to find a way to keep the winning tradition alive.
“We’re very young and we’re going to make some youthful mistakes,” Starnes said. “And I can handle that as long as they are playing hard.”
Crittenden lists six seniors on this year’s club, only one has a great deal of starting experience. The junior class provides much the same with only one full-time regular amid four 11th graders.
Crittenden’s running attack will be carried by a stable of youngsters, including sophomores Rodney Robertson, Gaige Courtney and Jeramie Sorina. Freshman J.D. Gray will get his varsity education under fire as a member of the normal rotation in the Rockets’ full-house backfield.
Quarterback Taylon Polk is a senior, but has seen very limited action at the varsity level behind two-year starter and record-setter Austin Berry the past couple of seasons. Polk understands the offense and is very capable of running Crittenden’s ground attack. He is becoming more comfortable throwing the ball, but the Rockets will not be airing it out as they have in the recent past.
“We’re going to throw it five to 10 times a game,” Starnes said. “The key will be throwing when we want to, not when we have to.”
Backing up Polk behind center is senior Jacob Courtney. Courtney is a mainstay at tight end – one of the best in the entire region. He also plays defensive end and may see some time at linebacker, too. Courtney is a main cog in the Rockets offense and defense; therefore his reps at QB are limited. Freshman Allen Kirk is working at No. 3 and if necessary Gray can also play quarterback.
At receiver, or X in the Rockets new offensive package, senior Evan Smiley is No. 1 on the depth chart, but Keathley Brown and Dustin McConnell are close behind. Jacob Courtney will catch his share of balls from the tight end spot and the running backs will be called on for short-yardage passes quite often. Robertson is a very good receiver out of the backfield and will play a great deal at the Z-back position.
Up front, the line is anchored by junior A.J. Thompson and sophomore Ezekiel Sorina. Each weigh in at 295 and move very well for big guys. They will play tackle and guard on the same side.
Juniors Daniel Farmer and Josh Ipock are among the most improved players on the team and will fill key roles at center and perhaps guard and tight end. Freshman Aaron Berry has moved up to the starting spot at left guard and senior Nic Duncan is now the starting right tackle after senior Jared Asbridge broke his hand in practice.
Drew Curtis and Alex Wood are two others who will fill key roles on the frontline.
“Depth is a problem for us,” Starnes said. “We don’t have the luxury of being two or three deep at every position. We’re going to have to count on some of these other guys to develop into players who can come in and help the team.”
Defensively, Crittenden will employ a five-man front with Justin Asbridge playing nose guard. Tackles are Ezekiel Sorina and Thompson backed by Jared Asbridge and Alex Fritz. David Turner is working out in the interior line, too.
At ends, or bandit and rover in the new team terminology, will be Alex Wood, a well-seasoned sophomore with plenty of varsity playing time last year, and Jacob Courtney. Ipock and Farmer are interchangeable there, too.
Gaige Courtney will play middle linebacker with Polk at sam linebacker and Robertson at will backer. Curtis, Gray and Berry will see time among the linebacking corps, too.
Jeramie Sorina will play safety backed by Brown; Gray and Smiley are starting corners with McConnell expected to play there with regularity, also.
This will mark the Rockets’ final season in the Class A District it has called home for the past four years. The KHSAA has reclassified football and Crittenden will be playing next year in the Class A First District along with Mayfield, Ballard Memorial, Fulton, Fulton City and Russellville.
This fall, however, Crittenden will have to beat teams like Hancock County, Metcalfe County and a highly-improved Russellville club if it wants to earn a berth in the postseason. Those teams are expected to be the top teams in the league, with Crittenden fighting for a spot among them. Russellville, with 18 returning starters from a 7-4 club, could be the best of the lot.