For the Dublin Fighting Irish, the goal for spring practice is to get the players in pads and start working on the run game — whether that’s executing it on offense in the Wing-T, or stopping it on defense out of the 4-3.
Coming off a Region 3-AA title — their first since 2011 — they’re facing an uphill battle for 2019. They lose six offensive starters and four on defense. Gone are their quarterback, all three starting running backs, tight end and right guard, along with their defensive end, two linebackers and two defensive backs.
If there’s a coach equipped to deal with the turnover it’s Roger Holmes, who is entering his 18th season with the program. His accolades at Dublin include six region titles and a Class AA title in 2006. Last season the Fighting Irish reached the quarterfinals, the furthest they’d been since 2011.
“The expectation is to compete for a region championship,” Holmes said. “We want to make the playoffs and be playing our best by Week 11. You have to peak at the right time, and that’s during the playoffs. The reality is, if you get one or two kids hurt in the regular season, you might not win a region title. An injury can cost you the game, so (not winning region) isn’t the end of the world, because we’re trying to win state. We want to make sure we’re in the playoffs with a chance to make a run.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Fighting Irish will be replacing a three-year starter at quarterback in Rodriguez Martin. Competing to fill that role are juniors Markelle Mitchell (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and Kendell Wade (5-foot-7, 120 pounds) and sophomore Qua Ashley (5-foot-10, 165).
In the running game, the Fighting Irish will move senior JaQues Evans (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) from tight end to full back. Evans, who also plays defensive end and split end, holds offers Power 5 from Arizona State and Tennessee. Josh Isaac, a junior, will also return at fullback. Sophomore Jiquorion Mundie will step in as a starter after spending last season in a reserve role. Holmes describes Mundie as having home run speed and said he runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. Zion Kemp and Marcus “Mark-Mark” Adams fill out the run game.
It’s worth noting that the Fighting Irish run the ball 75-percent of their snaps by Holmes’ estimate.
The good news for the offense comes at the line, where the Fighting Irish only graduated their right guard. Holmes views that unit — led by Romello Height (more than 30 D-1 offers), Arshon James, Jalen Carter, Jeremy Stuckey, Berrick Wadley and Ty McCrae — as a strength.
“Coaches argue whether it’s great running backs or a great line (that makes an offense go),” Holmes said. “We’ve graduated all of our running backs but we’ve got our line back. We had all of our running backs last year and we were bigger and stronger there. But now we’ve got more speed in the run game and more size on the line.”
They also lost leading receiver Jermaine Cooley, now at Tennessee-Martin.
Evans, a linebacker, and defensive ends Height and Ahmad Lattimore will be the leaders on defense, along with safety Marcus Adams. Safety Kendell Wade is expected to take on a bigger role as well. They’ll be looking to fill the biggest void left on defense in defensive end Steven Linton, who signed with Syracuse. Linton was also the team’s starting tight end.
Khalil White, Jarvis Jones and Jalen Carter will also start on the defensive line.
Dublin’s spring practice began May 1 and concludes on the 17th with a scrimmage at Baldwin at 7 p.m. Admission is $7.
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage at Twitter.com/AJCClassAAblog.
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