08/13/17 — PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW -- Princeton HS

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By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 13, 2017 1:48 AM


PRINCETON -- There are no secrets at Princeton this season.

One look at the roster tells the tale -- especially on offense, which changed significantly last June.

The Bulldogs lost their three-headed monster -- running backs Earl Gibson Jr., Trace James and Matt Stallworth. The trio combined to rush for more than 4,600 yards and 65 total touchdowns.

The defense has gaps to fill, too.

In all, Princeton lost 15 starters from 2016.

Then again, talent -- experienced in some spots and unevenly spread over the roster -- remains. Third-year head coach Travis Gaster says the Bulldogs are ahead of where they were last year, but he has found himself scribbling and explaining plays on his erasable whiteboard more frequently this season.

Ah, those teachable moments.

"These guys are still in classroom learning mode much moreso than 'hey it's time to get hyped up and get after each other,'" Gaster said. "I like that. I think that's a part of our job that's very critical and often overlooked ... the job as a teacher and not just as a motivator.

"Our kids are in a learning stage and I think we're all on the same page, and that's a good thing as far as understanding our offense and what to expect out of one another."

Spring and summer workouts, and the first two-plus weeks of preseason practice have shed some light on what Princeton can do this season -- especially on defense. A late coaching change set back the secondary, which has shown the most improvement.

The group communicates well, understands the importance of stepping into the passing lanes and boosted their reps to increase their timing once the ball is snapped.

Nathan Ramby and John Lockamy have caught Gaster's eye.

Princeton emerged as the Carolina Conference leader in rushing yards per game (389.3) and scoring (40.31 points) last season. But it lost nearly 80 percent of its offensive production.

Quarterback Adam Crocker returns to direct the offense. He became a vocal leader last season, and thinks the team could challenge for league supremacy and return to the postseason.

Lamar Wilkins becomes the No. 1 back. He intercepted the game-ending pass during last year's wild 70-64 four-overtime victory over Martin Riverside in opening-round action of the playoffs. Gaster added that basketball player Rahjae McPhatter will suit up along with Lockamy in the backfield.

"He worked hard in the weight room...bought into my recruiting," grinned Gaster. "He's looked really good, been a very pleasant surprise. We definitely plan on running the ball...personnel really hasn't changed that much.

"We need to count on some really good offensive line play and take care of the ball. We are small, which is going to be a factor. Some of the best absolute players that I have ever coached have been undersized from what society would say a football player at that position is supposed to be."

Princeton, Lakewood and North Duplin shared the Carolina 1-A Conference regular-season championship a year ago. Newcomer Union, Lakewood and North Duplin are title contenders this fall.

The Bulldogs, says Gaster, must execute on offense and have a better turnover margin ratio. The defense has to line up correctly and tackle better than a year ago, which led to critical breakdowns.

"I hope that we can do very well," Gaster said.