If nothing else, young talent offers hope. And for Covenant, the billing as a young and talented team fits like a glove.
Last year with only four seniors -- only one of whom made a large impact after an injury -- youth led to a 5-5 record, one spot out of the GICAA playoffs.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment any time you miss the playoffs,” Covenant head coach Chris Oxford said. “You always shoot for the playoffs at the beginning of the season, but overall we had some good, positive things. We had something to build on.”
But youth alone did not hamper the Rams’ season. Losing four of the final six games of the year also can be chalked up to a major case of the injury bug, which struck five starters -- quarterback Cody Farr in the third game of season, right tackle Mason Brown, running back/defensive back Owen Freel, left tackle Jackson Lambert and Nick Perdue, who was lost during the preseason.
“It’s not like somebody hurt an ankle and was back in two weeks,” Oxford said. “I had a couple of guys break their legs and a couple of other injuries that were season-ending injuries. That really hurt me.”
As long as Covenant avoids a repeat of those problems, Oxford envisions a step forward. Eleven seniors head this year’s squad, but numerous sophomores and freshmen will make their presence felt on the field. One of those sophomores will be Farr, who’s bouncing back from last year’s injury and currently finds himself in a quarterback battle with senior Hunter Duke.
Despite being the younger of the two, Farr possesses more experience and knowledge at quarterback and can “pick up any offensive scheme” and has a “real good arm,” according to Oxford. On the other hand, Duke, at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, is strong athletically.
Whoever wins the battle should have plenty of help. Coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season as a sophomore, Leon Simmons projects to lead the team’s attack at running back and has added 15 to 20 pounds to his once 155-pound frame.
Freel, like Farr, returns from injury and will play wide receiver. Oxford spoke highly of the senior’s improvement in the weight room and said, “When (Freel) breaks the huddle, he’s open. He can catch a football.”
At tight end, Oxford returns another underclassman, sophomore Nathan Hunt (6-5, 190).
“He’s got great hands, could play quarterback for me, and he usually starts at linebacker, just with his height and athletic ability,” Oxford said.
Covenant also returns its entire offensive line, including center Kameron Tate, another sophomore who “has really stepped up this year” and in the eyes of Oxford, could break every weight record at the school that his older brothers have set.
One of those older brothers is Khristian Tate, a senior who has taken visits to Tennessee, Georgia (twice), Mercer and Kennesaw State.
At 6-1 and 263 pounds, Khristian Tate played fullback and linebacker last year, leading the team in tackles with 87 and rushing for about 551 yards. Oxford is considering moving him to running back -- the position at which Tennessee has worked him out -- with his improved speed.
“With that kind of speed -- he’s really improved on his speed -- he could be a dominant force at running back this year,” Oxford said.
On the defense, Khristian Tate most likely will move to defensive tackle. In July, Tate traveled to Texas to participate in a top 100 prospect camp.
“He’s the real deal,” Oxford said.
With three or four offensive players Oxford believes can play college football (Khristian Tate, Simmons and Hunt), offense will be the calling card for the Rams this season.
The short-term goal is to make the playoffs, and Oxford is confident about his team’s chances.
“If my offensive line can keep improving this year, and we can stay away from the injury bug, we should have a good season,” Oxford said. “Could be the best season in Covenant’s history.”
ABOUT THE COVENANT RAMS
Head coach: Chris Oxford (17-33 overall; 5-5 in one season at Covenant).
Assistant coaches: Chris Ferguson (defensive coordinator); Todd Hunt, Neil Jones, Jason Howell, Andrew Lauritsen, Mark Thompson.
Offensive scheme: Pro-I.
Defensive scheme: 53, 44.
2014 record: 5-5.
Region: GICAA Division I-AA.
Returning starters: Eight on offense; seven on defense.
Players to watch: Khristian Tate (Sr. FB/DE); Nathan Hunt (Soph., TE/QB/S); Leon Simmons (Jr., RB/WR/CB); PJ Taylor (Sr., FB/OLB); Hunter Duke (Sr., QB/TE/DE); Cody Farr (Soph., QB); Kameron Tate (Soph, OL/LB); Owen Freel (Sr., WR/DB); Jourdain Irvin (Soph., DL/OL); Chance Spires (Sr., OL/DL); Caleb Sans (Sr., OL/LB).
Aug. 21 at Dawson Christian
Aug. 28 Crisp Academy
Sept. 4 at Nathanael Greene
Sept. 11 Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 25 Young American Christian
Oct. 2 at Fullington
Oct. 9 Sherwood
Oct. 16 at Community Christian
Oct. 23 at Calvary Christian
Oct. 30 Creekside
Nov. 6 Life Christian