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Changes: SouthWest Edgecombe offensive line makes everything go

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SouthWest Edgecombe receiver Keishon Porter, right, hauls in one of his 16 touchdown receptions last season. The 6-foot-5 pass-catcher will be a prime offensive target as he returns for his senior season with the Cougars.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, August 8, 2019

For SouthWest Edgecombe and coach Jonathan Cobb, change is good.

Cobb, who is entering his seventh season as the head coach of the Cougars, ran his team without much variation over the first five years. The first two were largely spent installing his system and learning the intricacies of being a head coach.

The next three seasons followed a comfortable and well-known path of playing stout defense with a smash-mouth running game out of the wishbone. Then, everything changed.

“Ahead of Year 6 I looked at the personel and I said, ‘If we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to do things a little differently.’ We didn’t have this kind of person or this kind of person like we did in years one through five.

“We operate the same base system and philosophy, but changed some things. Change is good. Going back every year teaching and doing the same thing can get tedious, and for us it was the right time to make those changes.”

The most noticeable change for SWE was it was passing more often and more effectively. The Cougars, led by senior quarterback Jayden Lewis and junior receiver Keishon Porter, collected 1,410 yards through the air. It was the first 1,000-yard passing season by a quarterback under Cobb, whose willingness to be flexible allowed the Cougars to take advantage of the skills that the 6-foot-5 Porter offered.

Now, heading into another year with an emphasis on finding ways to get Porter the ball while still relying on a power running game, the potential for the Cougars offense is as bright as ever.

Returning rushers Cortezz Jones and Tayshaun Pittman are the leading running backs to return from a backfield that saw six players get at least 47 carries last year. Jones and Pittman can expect to receive the bulk of the carries this season, running behind an offensive line that is the strength of this team.

“They’re all not the biggest or strongest boys in the world, but the biggest thing is they're smart,” Cobb said of the offensive line. “They communicate well, and we love having the D-1 guy at center. We saw 50 fronts 75 percent of the time with a nose tackle, and he destroyed every nose there. That does wonders for you.”

Center and incoming senior Jaquaez Powell is the future Division I athlete. Powell, who verbally committed to East Carolina, anchors the line. Powell is listed at 6-4, 305 pounds, yet has the footwork of a skill-position player.

Linemate and senior left guard Davis Wainright, a three-year varsity starter, also returns to a largely intact line that allowed just one sack last season.

“We’re excited to see what we can do this year,” Powell said. “We know that what we do is very important to the success of this team, and we have the chemistry to get the job done. We’re a tight-knit group.”

The only main change on offense is replacing Lewis at the quarterback position. A two-way positional battle between Jackson Lewis and Ray Wooten over the next two weeks will decide the starter.

Both junior athletes played a season of quarterback on JV. Jackson more recently playing QB last season, while Wooten started at cornerback on the varsity roster last year.

Elsewhere, the traditionally stout defense will get a makeover. Gone is the Telegram’s defensive player of the year in Jelan Smith, and just one of the four linebackers return. Kedar Darden, the second-leading tackler from last year, is the lone returner at inside linebacker, while Jones (a former LB) will slide into Smith’s vacated defensive end position.

“Defensively, we’re very green in some places. The secondary has some guys returning like (cornerback) Michael Hussey, but elsewhere there’s a lot to get up to speed. We moved Cortezz to D-end to hopefully fill the void left by Jelan Smith.

“We believe (Jones) can handle it, and we’ll have a true pass rusher in those situations. Cortezz, at 6-1, 220 pounds, he can really run and move. He has a chance to be really special.”

SWE advanced to the third round of the playoffs last season where it lost to eventual state runner-up North Davidson, which ran a spread offense. The Cougars defense was forced to run aspects of a man-to-man defense during that game, which was a change of pace so late in the season.

This year, Cobb and the Cougars will get to face pass-oriented offenses earlier in the year in an attempt to ready themselves for a potential spread team in the postseason.

“I was looking at certain styles to play,” Cobb said of his schedule making. “Come conference time I knew we wouldn’t see a spread like North Davidson ran in the third round. The issue is when you go further in the playoffs you see things you aren't used to defending. So we’re seeking more experience there.”

This season, SWE will face at least four teams that ran spread offenses a year ago, including South Central, Bertie, Northern Nash and Corinth Holders. South Central and Corinth Holders are 4-A schools as well, a pair of tough matchups that Cobb hopes will harden his group.

Cougars file

Coach: Jonathan Cobb (7th season)

Last season: 11-3 (lost in 3rd round of 2-AA playoffs)

2019 first game: Aug. 29, hosting North Edgecombe

Key losses: Jayden Lewis, Jelan Smith, Darntrell Council, Jareil Collins, Jordan Clayton, Zykei Callahan, Larry Taylor, Tanazzi Williams, Ty Gunter,

Fast fact: SouthWest Edgecombe finished with 1,410 passing yards last season. It was the highest total recorded under coach Jonathan Cobb across his six seasons as the Cougars’ head coach. The previous high came in 2015 when the team passed for 688 yards.