With a couple playoff appearances and their best two-year run in a decade, it’s tempting to think the Augusta Orioles have turned a significant corner under coach Jason Filbeck.
If only it were that simple.
“I think that’s an evolving thing,” Filbeck said. “Once you get a group how you want it, they mess around and go to college.
“We’re not starting over from scratch, but every year is different.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The trend certainly has been upward for Augusta, which followed a 5-5 debut under Filbeck in 2014 with a 7-3 record last season. The Orioles’ losses came to a trio of Class 4A-I postseason qualifiers that combined to win 27 of 33 games.
By matching the program’s victory total from the previous eight seasons, when Augusta went 12-61, the Orioles have gained a foothold under Filbeck that at least redefines expectations.
“It’s pretty clear now,” said running back Luke Dockers, who earned All-Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League recognition after running for 627 yards and eight touchdowns last season. “If you don’t know, then you’re probably not going to play.”
New challenges await the Orioles as they attempt to build on their recent success.
Dockers, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, will run behind an unproven offensive line in Augusta’s spread bone offense. He will try to take pressure off Chance Whitehead, an athletic junior who took hold of the quarterback spot during the summer after Zach Barclay decided not to return for his senior season.
Barclay accounted for 1,145 total yards and 13 touchdowns while starting seven games last fall. But Whitehead, who had punt return and receiving touchdowns in an opening victory against Wellington, drew the starting quarterback assignment in three games. He completed 20 of 40 passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Chance is an athlete and Chance is a player,” Dockers said. “He’s dang elusive with the ball in his hands. As long as he stays up and doesn’t get down on himself, he can be one of the best players on this team.”
Augusta made measurable strides on defense in 2015, allowing an average of 14.5 points with one shutout. While senior Clay Wesbrooks is the lone returning starter in the secondary, the Orioles figure to be formidable near the line of scrimmage with Dallin Marlnee, a 215-pound senior linebacker who has received an offer to play at Wyoming.
Marlnee led the Orioles with 89 tackles, forced three fumbles and had an interception as a junior.
“He doesn’t miss tackles and he makes us very flexible,” Filbeck said.
Marlnee will work alongside senior Raef Hilt, who was slowed by a midseason hip injury a year ago. Augusta also returns all-league selection Jonny Clausing, a 6-7, 230-pound end, and junior tackles Kendall Davis and Ryan Rogers.
“Playing against guys like Kendall and Dallin, and trying to block a big old guy like Jonny every day in practice makes you better,” Dockers said.
To reach the playoff for the third consecutive season, Augusta will have to navigate through a new district that includes Andover Central, which lost to Bishop Miege in last year’s 4A-I championship, and Maize South, which has reached the postseason in all six years of the program’s existence. Rose Hill will provide the other district test.
“We welcome it,” Filbeck said. “Those programs are very good and I look at it that maybe we’ll be a little bit more battle-tested at the end of the season.
“Some may look at it as a bad thing, but we’re kind of excited about the district. The competitor in me says maybe one of them got a bad draw having to play us.”