CHATSWORTH -- The North Murray High School football team ended its final day of spring practice on Wednesday afternoon, and as the players left the field, seniors Landon Burrell and Ladd McConkey were talking with younger players one-on-one about the specifics of their positions.
Having a senior class with 28 players, along with the leadership which comes with such an experienced group, is something coach Preston Poag said should be a strength heading into this fall.
"I expect that from those guys," Poag said. "I told them the other day after practice that I shouldn't have to be the one to yell and scream all the time. We've got all these seniors who have played enough football to lead the team. It's really their team."
The Mountaineers finished last season 6-5 and were eliminated from the Class 3A playoffs in the first round by Greater Atlanta Christian. North Murray also lost a pair of key pieces from last season's roster to graduation, in quarterback Preston Poag Jr. and lineman Luke Griffin, who are both headed to play Division I football this fall (Poag Jr. to Eastern Kentucky; Griffin to Missouri).
Looking to replace Poag Jr., McConkey took reps at quarterback with the first-team offense on Wednesday afternoon, and will likely be the signal caller for the Mountaineers next season. Leading the second-team offense, however, was a rising freshman. Seth Griffin, the younger brother of Luke Griffin, already stands more than 6-feet tall and Poag said the young quarterback's development will take time.
"He's got all the tools, I mean he can throw it, he can run it," Poag said. "But for an eighth-grader moving up into ninth grade, the mental part is so much different and the game moves so much faster. But he's going to be a good player for us."
Surrounding McConkey on offense will be a number of returning starters including tight end Chaisen Buckner, wide receiver Landon Burrell, running back Dylan Flood and starting center Aaron McCurdy. As a rising junior, running back D'Ante Edwards Tidwell also returns in the backfield as the Mountaineers should have a number of options offensively.
Poag said the offense will likely adjust a bit with McConkey under center, and move away from throwing the ball as much as it did with Poag Jr. at quarterback. The team ran a handful of option plays at Wednesday's practice and the offense should be able to utilize McConkey's athleticism in that aspect. McConkey has played defensive back, receiver and returned kicks on special teams.
"We're still gonna be in the spread, but we're gonna do some stuff that fits our personnel a little bit better," Poag said. "Ladd isn't the type who's gonna get back there and throw it a bunch of times like Preston, but he is gonna be the guy who can run around the field with options and make things happen with his feet."
At the end of Wednesday's practice, Poag told his team that he expects them to be more physical and more excited to play than every team they played this season. The Mountaineers play Southeast Whitfield at 7 tonight at home in teams' spring game.
Heading into the game and then into the summer season, Poag expects his older group of players to lead the way.
"We know what a lot of these older guys can do because they've played for us. A lot of them started as sophomores," Poag said. "They've played a lot of football for us and they're good players. We'll see some new stuff in practice, but you really get to see it in these spring games, as far who can step up from the younger guys and make plays for us."