High School Football

Paul Dunbar trying to continue football revival despite no depth, little experience

Paul Dunbar's Jay Coleman, who flashed speed last fall, isn't lowering his expectations despite a young roster. "Do what you have to do to win, no matter what you have or who you have," he said.
Paul Dunbar's Jay Coleman, who flashed speed last fall, isn't lowering his expectations despite a young roster. "Do what you have to do to win, no matter what you have or who you have," he said. Herald-Leader

DeRante Sanders and Jay Coleman were part of Paul Laurence Dunbar's football revival last year.

Sanders led the city in tackles as a sophomore linebacker, and Coleman showed flashes of his 4.3 speed as a junior halfback.

In Paul Rains' first season as coach, Dunbar won six games for the first time in eight years, including its first playoff victory since 2007.

The good news for the Bulldogs: Sanders and Coleman should be even better this fall. The bad news: Sanders and Coleman, along with defensive lineman LaDarrius Morton, are Dunbar's only returning starters healthy and ready to start this season.

Rains, who has been coaching for three decades, said this is the youngest team he's ever had. Only two of his seniors played a lot last year, and the majority of the Bulldogs' roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.

"We're not changing our approach other than being more patient," Rains said. "We've gotta remember who we're coaching.

"We'll work them hard and teach them as best we can, then go out on Friday nights and see what happens."

When Rains took over as coach last year, his top priority was to rid the program of the negativity and apathy produced by a 12-64 record the previous seven seasons.

"I've turned around probably four or five programs, and there's about a two-year cleansing process before the young kids learn what's expected," Rains said. "We were fortunate last year to have some incredible seniors who helped get the process started. But we're not completely there yet."

Even though Dunbar will start the season handicapped by inexperience, Sanders and Coleman think the Bulldogs can put up a good fight.

"Coach has everything turned around. We know what it takes to win," Sanders said. "The toughest part is everybody knowing their assignments under pressure in game situations. The upperclassmen have to make sure the underclassmen are on the same page."

Coleman said a player's size or experience isn't as important as "being in the right spot and keeping a strong mind. If we do that we'll be fine."

Last year Dunbar's triple-option offense, run by Emory Thompson, caused all kinds of trouble for opponents. Thompson graduated, leaving the quarterback spot open. Tre Penney, an untested senior, is the leading candidate for the job. Kendall Roberts, who was the junior varsity QB last season, is in the competition, too.

"We've simplified some things, and we're spending extra time with the quarterbacks, working on getting their steps down," Rains said.

"I think they'll be OK."

Coleman, who ran for 442 yards and six touchdowns last year, will be a primary weapon. Sanders will get some carries, too, as will Maurice Carter and freshman Jefferson Harkless.

Carter Hayslett and Quinton Dixon are among the fullbacks. Rains might use 275-pound Morton there, too.

Carter and Laquan Taylor can play receiver positions.

Dunbar has to replace its entire offensive line, but Rains said he isn't stressed about filling those slots.

Defensively, Sanders and Morton should be standouts. Nick Martin, another defensive line veteran, will miss most of the season with a broken foot.

Dixon, Hayslett and Tyron Harris show promise at linebacker. Coleman, Carter and Taylor will see action in the secondary.

Even though Dunbar lacks depth and experience, Coleman said he isn't lowering his expectations. "Nobody likes losing. You've gotta go out there and do what you have to do to win, no matter what you have or who you have."

That's the kind of revival talk Rains likes to hear.

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