2015 Football Preview: Dragons hope to end drought
By Travis Lisle
After a six-win, four-loss 2014 season, the Chico Dragons have a lot of reasons to be hopeful, and one large reason to be motivated heading into 2015.
Despite finishing the season with a winning record, Chico met Valley View for the final game on the schedule with their playoff hopes still in limbo.
Heading into the game, the Dragons had a 1-3 district record, while Valley View stood at 2-2.
A Chico win would push each team into a tie that would be decided by total points scored in district play.
The Dragons needed a 16-point victory – but only managed to win by seven.
“That was pretty crushing,” standout center Tyler Melton said. “It was more bitter than sweet, even though we won. It has definitely motivated us during the offseason.”
After the season, Stephen Carter resigned as the head coach and many in the senior class worried about who would take over the program in their final year.
At a public hearing during a summer school board meeting, Melton and Jaston McBee were among several student athletes who pleaded with the trustees to make offensive coordinator Lane Wilson the new athletic director and head coach.
After a closed session, the board agreed to promote Wilson, giving continuity to a team already on the verge of reaching the postseason.
“That was really touching,” Wilson said. “Those kids supported me because they know I’ve got their backs.”
Adding to Chico’s postseason dreams is a UIL’s change that will allow 2A football districts to send four teams to the playoffs, as opposed to three, as in years past.
“We’ve got our goal and now they’re taking four teams,” Melton said. “How can you not get in?”
The final mystery heading into the Chico season was solved when McBee took charge over the vacant quarterback position.
With that in place, skill players like Cameron Weatherly and Kalan Johnson should be able to shine in the wide-open Chico offense.
Though much has gone in Chico’s favor, it won’t be a cakewalk for the Dragons to reach their goals.
Bells and Alvord highlight a competitive schedule that will force Chico to be at it’s best every Friday, and at least one Saturday.
The Dragons’ season begins 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, under the big bright city lights of Pennington Field in Bedford against Frost.
Dragons to use speed on defense
Chico defensive end Cody Armstrong and his fellow linemen are excited about the season.
“I hope to get to the quarterback a lot,” Armstrong explained. “It’s just about squeezing everything inside. We get through the hole pretty fast. We’re a pretty good group.”
Armstrong averaged four tackles a game last season and hopes for even more opportunities in 2015.
The defensive line of the Dragons should be a strong unit, with good size and quickness.
The Dragons also return star linebacker Garon Davis, who finished the season with 89 tackles and a sack.
Though Davis received a lot of individual praise for his play alongside his now-graduated brother, Hagen, he is focused on the team.
“We should be a good defense this year,” Davis predicted. “We’re a team. We just want to win ballgames.”
The Dragons are changing defensive schemes this year.
After their scrimmage with Millsap, head coach Lane Wilson said that he was impressed with the units play.
“I think they’ve done a good job of trusting their reads and assignments,” Wilson said. “That can be a difficult transition for players.”
Standout safety Kalan Johnson is still getting used to the new scheme.
“There’s a lot of new stuff to learn,” he said. “It’s a whole new defense.”
Johnson is one of the most important players in Chico’s defensive backfield.
He averaged 4.8 tackles a game last season, with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Johnson’s speed is unquestioned.
As the fastest man in Chico history – Johnson holds the school record in the 200-meter dash – there shouldn’t be an opposing receiver that the senior defensive back can’t keep up with down the field.
McBee takes over at QB
With the return of starters at running back, offensive line and receiver, one of the bigger questions facing Chico’s high-powered offense that averaged 43 points was who would play quarterback.
After losing Jericoe McGuire to graduation, it seems that Jaston McBee has taken to the position nicely.
“Jaston is doing a lot better throwing the ball and reading the defense,” receiver Cameron Weatherly said. “He’s stepped up a lot.”
Though it hasn’t been easy, McBee is making strides to know the offense by heart.
“It is taking a lot of work,” McBee said. “Practice makes perfect. I’m still working on getting everything down mentally.”
Despite knowing that he will have to improve, McBee is confident in what the offense can do with a talented group of play makers.
“We’re going to be good at both running and passing,” he said. “We have good skill positions. We’re a spread offense that can attack defenses in multiple ways.”
Among Chico’s skill-position players is Kalan Johnson, a returning starter with blazing speed. Johnson owns the school record in the 200-meter dash.
“He had almost 900 yards rushing in five games,” head coach Lane Wilson said. “We used him more as a receiver earlier in the year and later found out that he could run. He was a diamond in the rough.”
Weatherly is a valuable target in the passing game.
The tall junior considers himself a possession receiver who can get open against smaller defensive backs.
At the point of attack, Tyler Melton will headline a crew with a lot of potential, but is still pretty young overall.
“They just need some time,” Wilson said. “They’ll learn to be more physical as we get into the season. We can’t get pushed back off the line of scrimmage.”
Melton was an all-district center for the Dragons last season, and he uses his mind to get an edge on defenses while making all of the line calls.
“Understanding the offense is probably my greatest strength on the offensive line,” Melton said. “I enjoy the mental part and take a lot of pride in it.”