High School Football

Commodores expect experience to launch turnaround this season

Tates Creek quarterback Dee Christopher threw for 1,354 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last year.
Tates Creek quarterback Dee Christopher threw for 1,354 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last year. HERALD-LEADER

Tates Creek will be wearing throwback jerseys and helmets this season, emblematic of the good ol' days when the Commodores were a perennial football power.

Will the change in uniforms coincide with a change in fortunes for Tates Creek, which hasn't had a winning season since 2006 and hasn't won a playoff game since 2004?

"This year people will see a different Tates Creek. They'll see a team with mojo and swagger," senior quarterback Dee Christopher said.

Mike Harmon, starting his third season as coach of his alma mater, isn't as brash as Christopher in sizing up the Commodores, but he does see improvement ahead.

"We expect to be better and compete better because we have more guys with experience," Harmon said.

"At some point, pride kicks in too. We made progress last year, but it's time to step over the hurdle and win those close games we lost last year."

Tates Creek returns a lot of key players from the team that went 5-5 in the regular season last fall.

Harmon projects that Christopher, who threw for 1,354 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, will be a better quarterback this season.

"Dee has really grown up a lot; he's more of a leader," Harmon said. "He's getting his reads down, throwing the ball better, and he's quicker."

Martrell Berry, who saw time as a backup QB last fall, will fill that same role.

Tates Creek has a stable of veteran running backs, led by Brandon Shrout (522 yards, four TDs last season); Jontez Jones (507 yards, seven TDs), and Jamal McFarland (who transferred from Paul Laurence Dunbar and sat out last season).

"This is probably the most talented overall group of running backs I've ever had," Harmon said.

The receiving corps includes Will Sweet, Josh Hagan, Aubrey Lewis and newcomer Travonne Buford.

The offensive line has plenty of experience in Jasir Rayyan, Alex Bradley and T.D. Jemison.

The Commodores' defense is a veteran unit, too.

Jemison will be one of the leaders on the D-line, along with Aaron Mullins, who had 17 tackles for losses last year. Jamal Wagner, a transfer from Dunbar, will be a major contributor, too.

Jonathon Meadors, a starter at linebacker since he was a freshman, says the Commodores' team unity means they are ready for a turnaround.

"We all love each other like a family this year," said Meadors, who led the team in tackles last year. "We've finally got (Harmon's) system in place. Everybody's listening, focused and feeding off each other's confidence."

Kalin Poe also returns at linebacker. Shrout, Lewis, Corey Hutchens, Travis Sansom and William Hardin also bring experience to the "D."

Look for McFarland and Jones to show up on that side of the ball, too, along with Christopher and Berry.

"We've got to make sure we get our best athletes on the field," Harmon said. "Guys like Dee and Martrell are too talented for one of them to be standing on the sidelines."

Over the years, Tates Creek's best teams have been defined by their toughness, which goes back to when Roy Walton first built the program into a power. Meadors promised that this year's Commodores will pay tribute to Walton by playing his style.

"This is a hard-nosed football team," he said. "We will be hitting this year."

Walton died a few months ago, but his spirit is still with the Commodores. His initials RGW are embroidered on the throwback jerseys, and the annual game matching Tates Creek and Lafayette (where Walton began his coaching career) will be called the Roy G. Walton Bowl.

"Hopefully, the kids will make sure that we do our best to honor Coach Walton this season," Harmon said.