Essex looking to knock off Sunshine

Tonight, John Essex begins its quest to put together its first winning season since 2005 when it hosts Sunshine High School.

In the Tigers, Essex draws a team it beat 28-0 last year, marking its third straight victory against the program from Newbern.

But, while the teams play every year, the Hornets feel very little familiarity with Sunshine this go-round given the arrival of new head coach Walter Jones, who schemes and tendencies are not yet known to Essex head coach Jerome Antone.

“You script your first few plays and see what they’re doing and then you make your adjustment accordingly,” Antone said of the plan to counter the Tigers tonight.

While the Hornets aim to emerge from the game with a 1-0 record, Antone said much of tonight’s contest is about assessment given the Hornets’ lack of a preseason contest.

“You want to play sound football and assignment football. I want to see the conditioning aspect and execution,” Antone said. “Assignment and alignment.”

Sunshine will be the first regular season test of the Hornets’ new offensive scheme, which the team began installing in the spring.

“We went into the double wing offense and (new starting quarterback Cedric Cooks) was able to execute that offense about as good as a high schooler could execute it,” Antone said of his new offense and its new signal caller. “Ced is a smart kid. He is almost like a coach on the field. We are really looking for good things from Cedric.”

Cooks will be attempting to execute the Hornet attack behind an offensive line that is thick on size and thin on depth.

“We have some pretty good size, we just don’t have depth,” Antone said of his offensive front. “But, at the 1A level, I feel as though we can compete with those kids playing up front on both sides of the ball.”

Antone and assistant coach Brad Daniels designed the shift in offensive scheme as a means to better employ the talent on the Hornets’ offensive front and the skillset of players such as Cooks.

“They’ve adjusted real well. I can say they like it. And I feel if you run a type of offense kids like, they’ll work harder at it. And it gives them the opportunity to be in space more,” Antone said. “You have to run offense according to your talent. I feel as though our skill folks can run the Wing T. That’s why we put the Wing T in there because of our size and things of that nature.”

The other notable change for the Hornets heading into 2012 is the shift in region as the team moves to Class 1A, Region 1 where they will get to tussle with Marengo County foes A.L. Johnson, Linden and Marengo High.

“They feel really good about the schedule change. You have Linden in your region now and you have Marengo and A.L. Johnson. And those kids know each other. And you have a competitive edge there,” Antone said. “We feel as though we can compete in this region. There is a strong, strong possibility we can go .500 and go to the playoffs.”

Ready to kick off his third season as Essex head coach, Antone has compiled a 9-11 record in two seasons at the helm of the Hornet program, having narrowly missed the playoffs each year.

Despite the losses of a number of key players, Antone said he is confident in his team’s ability to get over the hump based not on what it has lost, but what it has gained.

“We feel as though the kids have matured,” Antone said. “They are used to our coaching style and what we are looking for. I feel as though we have a very strong opportunity if we just stay healthy.”