East football coach Brian Byers doesn’t want to do it, but every year it seems like he’s forced to.
Underclassmen see the field on a regular basis for the Aces — either via injury or necessity — and it can be a burden when it comes to trying to put together a complete season.
Almost always, it’s the first varsity action for the players, and in some cases it’s occurring when the player is not only learning to adjust to on-field action, but adjust to learning the game itself.
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“They’re not ready for that, and we’re in the same boat as some other schools in the City League,” Byers said. “That being said, we’ve got a little more depth than we have in the past, so I’m hoping to avoid doing that so much this year.”
East might have a little more depth — not much, Byers admits — but what they do have is experience at key positions.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back/return specialist Willie Edwards is a player the Aces can build around — he’s received scholarship offers from Northern Iowa and Illinois State. Senior running back Calil Burnett is also back after a broken collarbone cut last season short.
South transfer Dominique Webb could step into the starting quarterback role.
“We worked hard this summer, made a good connection playing a lot of 7-on-7s,” Edwards said. “And having Calil back, with his speed, helps us a lot.”
Perhaps the biggest ace in the Aces’ arsenal this year is 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior defensive end Xavier Kelly, a returning starter and basketball star who averaged 11.1 points last season and has schools such as Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Florida State calling.
“He really reminds me of Kamerion Wimbley,” Byers said, name-checking the former Northwest, Florida State and current Tennessee Titans outside linebacker. “He’s a little raw, but he’s a big-time player.”
Kelly, who wears the same No. 22 his father, Will, wore at Detroit Central High, is taking the newfound attention in stride.
“I learned a lot from last year, learned a lot from my mistakes and I’ve improved a lot,” Kelly said. “I can’t get off track. I’ve got to just keep working hard, no matter what.”
A LOOK AT EAST
Coach: Brian Byers, eighth season, 27-34
League: City League
Last season: 3-6
Last five seasons: 15-28
Projected 2014 playoff team? Yes
TOP SKILL PLAYERS
|Sept. 5||Kapaun (at WSU)|
|Sept. 12||at Carroll|
|Sept. 19||West (at NW)|
|Sept. 26||at South|
|Oct. 3||at Heights|
|Oct. 10||Garden City (at South)|
|Oct. 17||North (at South)|
|Oct. 24||at Junction City|
|Oct. 30||Southeast (South)|
Xavier Kelly on his team
What East does well: “I think our defense is going to be really good and we’ve got a lot of talented players at the skill positions.”
What East has to improve: “We need to make sure we don’t get down on each other when we make mistakes. Keep encouraging each other and make it up on the next play.”