Last season, Thomas Dale finished 9-3. That’s an excellent year by any standards, but when you consider what could have been, you wonder what the team may have done if it wasn’t for an onslaught of injuries.
The Knights’ coaching staff had to dig deeper into the depth chart than ever before. Thomas Dale had to start seven different quarterbacks due to various injuries. The team lost East Carolina commit and star defensive end Rick D’Abreu for the season in week 3. Zach Jones,a team leader and stalwart on the offensive line tore his ACL in week two. Originally, Tucker’s line-up included three returning seniors on offense and five on defense. By year’s end, that number whittled down to two.
Of course, there’s a huge upside to all of this. With upwards of 10-12 players injured at times for Thomas Dale, so many players got valuable game experience. Albeit at a high price, Tucker’s silver lining is that he returns a wealth of players that not only know what they are doing, but many that excelled in the roles they had to fill.
Thomas Dale is headlined by senior running back Chris Tyree, who committed to Notre Dame on May 23. The scary fast running back racked up 1,446 yards last season and Tucker said that the offense has been designed around giving Tyree 20-25 touches per game. That’s bad news for opposing defenses, who have to find a way to defend against Tyree’s track level speed, running his 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds.
As usual and despite the injuries, Thomas Dale put a healthy number of student-athletes on college football rosters. D’Abreu is at East Carolina, Garrett Graves at Bridgewater, Ejay Walker at Ferrum, Adam Hall at Virginia State, A.J. Chavis is pursing his college football dreams and two athletes are at Methodist University in T.J. Blanks and Justin Barbour.
The goal for Thomas Dale, like any other top program is a state championship, and specifically for the Knights, to get over their nine win hump. Over the past five seasons, Dale won nine games and made the state semi-finals in 2015 after winning six regular season games.
“We need to get to the playoffs unscathed,” said Tucker. “We got healthy at the right time and made it to the state semis in 2015,” he continued. “Whether we are 10-0 or 7-3 when we go into the playoffs, it doesn’t matter. We aren’t here to win two games and bow out, we’re here to win five games.”
Quarterbacks: Jasiah Williams is leading the way for the starting job. Armed with multiple D-1 offers, he figures to play either wide receiver or defensive back in college. Courtney Burrell, who started three games last year is in the mix along with Ethan Hamill who went 9-0 on JV last year and started in the Knights victory over Granby.
Running backs: As mentioned, Chris Tyree is going to get the ball more in 2019. Over the last couple years he hasn’t been the focal point of the offense, but now he’s ready to carry the load. D’Angelo Gray returns after a 2018 season that saw him score 20 touchdowns. Jordan Branch is a junior that scored 27 times on junior varsity last season. Two big fullbacks in Lamondre Smith and A.J. Turpek are the big, mean type of blockers that like to hit so hard they create ‘snot bubbles’ in the words of Tucker. Both will provide a ton of protection from Tyree.
Wide Receivers: Antonio Goins and Donovan Woods led the unit. Goins is ultra athletic and has excellent speed. He will serve as the top option to the Knights signal caller. If Jasiah Williams doesn’t player quarterback, he’ll surely be on the field at this position.
Offensive Line: The two senior veterans of the offensive line are Burke Snow and T.J. Minter. Both are big, strong and durable, not having missed a game during their time at Thomas Dale. Greg Mitchell will also play on the line and has a lot of experience at center from junior varsity Tyler Leinberger is a bookend tackle that has the body to play collegiality. Zeke along with Darius Sterling and Justin Tate will get reps in as well.
Defensive Line: Tucker said that defensive tackle Darius Sterling has the most violent hands of any player he has coached on the line. Developing mega recruit Bryce Carter (6-3, 250) has good motor and has packed on muscle. Justin Tate will play end and did well filling in for D’Abreu last years. Malachi Madison (6-3, 250) is a junior, could be the next coming on Rick D’Abreu. The Knights have a deep rotation here.
Linebackers: While Tucker said the inside linebacker core is still a work in progress, the outside is looking to be in good shape. Zack Jones started two games last year before tearing his ACL but is a ‘monster not he middle. Preston Pooney, a transfer from Hawaii has drawn comparisons to Sammy Stark in terms of his drive and motor. Judah Jones is back as a returning starter that can play inside or outside. Rishawn Saunders and Seamus Jones started games last year and got a load of experience. Saunders tallied over 100 tackles.
Defensive Backs: While Thomas Dale has had their good share of safeties in C.J. Reavis, Desmond Frye and Trent Williams, they have never had two Division I athletes at the position. Chris Tyree and Jasiah Williams give them that. the secondary. Phillip Allen started 7 of 10 games last year and returns. D’Angelo Gray will get reps here as well. Tucker said that the strength of this unit is depth along with his whole defense
Special Teams: Chris Kuda is back with his booming leg. Last season, he kicked a 47 yard field goal, just a yard short of former Hampton and Thomas Dale kicker Anthony Prevost’s record of 48 yards. Burke Snow is a fourth year starter at long snapper.