After losing stars, Wilson football retools to focus on defense

Wilson lost to Yorktown on Thursday as the Tigers continue to adjust to a new running game. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

When the Friday night lights came on last season, Wilson’s football team knew its offense would put on a show behind quarterback Steven Williams Jr. and wideout Sean Savoy. But the two are now suiting up on Saturdays for Old Dominion and Virginia Tech, respectively.

With such a seismic shift, the Tigers have been looking to forge a new identity predicated on a punishing rushing attack and a stout defense.

“Our defense is going to be really strong,” said Wilson coach Mark Martin, who has led the team to the last two D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title games. “Offensively we will be strong — we have three great backs and some receivers.”

Still, Martin understands filling the void will take a committee approach on the offensive side to make up for Williams’ and Savoy’s production.

“It’s hard to replace them,” the coach said. “It might take five kids to equal Sean. It might take five to equal Stevie. It’s a collective effort, and we have to get ready.”

Wilson seemed set at quarterback: Malachi Anthony stepped in when Williams was injured during the Turkey Bowl last November and kept the Tigers in the game before the team ultimately fell short. But the sophomore transferred this year, leaving a void at the position. “Malachi is at St. John’s; we wish him luck,” Martin said.

The team is instead rotating a pair of junior passers — Quincy Barber and Zayaan Cobb.

“They just have to get better,” Martin said. “They have to keep working. I plan on going with two quarterbacks.”

Wilson’s offense has seen a dramatic shift in philosophy as Martin adapts to the players he has available. The team’s strength the last few years was through the air, but now junior running back Amir Gerald and senior rusher Anton Reed are the focal points of the attack.

“Nine times out of 10, we are going to be a running team,” said Gerald. “Last year we passed it eight out of 10 times. Now we are a downhill running team. It’s a running back’s dream. I have to take advantage of the opportunity.”

The team believes its heart is now on the defensive side of the ball.

Wilson lost to Yorktown on Thursday as the Tigers continue to adjust to a new running game. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

“We are going to be solid and come out hard,” said senior defender Emon Fleming. “I knew this was coming, and I was prepared for it. The offense was going up and down; now the defense has to hold it down. We have practiced hard and balanced everything out.”

In addition to relying on Fleming, the team will look to junior linebacker Daunte Jones, senior cornerback Lonnell Rowell, junior defensive lineman Eddie Sincyr and senior linebacker Micah Darden for leadership and big plays.

The Tigers also hope for production from sophomore corner Demetrius Woods, who drew strong praise from his coach. “An athlete — he can play all phases of the game,” Martin said. “He is a 10th-grader and is young, but he plays like a senior.”

Despite the changes, the Tigers remain steadfast that they can reach the Turkey Bowl for the third straight year.

“We are going to surprise people,” said Fleming. “People think because we don’t have Sean or Stevie that we can’t do anything. No, we are still the same team. We are going to get back to the Turkey Bowl, and we are going to win.”

So far this season, the Tigers have shown some positives while working through growing pains during their non-conference schedule to prepare for the rigors of the DCIAA.

Wilson began the season by falling 45-0 to Friendship Collegiate on Aug. 26. In that game, the Tigers’ new run-first identity was unveiled as the team threw just eight passes while running the ball 16 times.

The Tigers had a much better game on Thursday night, when they lost to Yorktown on the road in Arlington, Va., by a much closer margin of 20-14. In that game, Reed and Gerald each scored their first rushing touchdowns of the season but couldn’t overcome a 20-7 fourth-quarter deficit.

The Tigers will look for their first win when they travel to play McKinley on Friday at 6 p.m.