For the second consecutive season the Enterprise Wildcats missed the playoffs in 2018 and as a result, EHS is starting over fresh with new head coach Rick Darlington and his brand of tough, hard-nosed football.
Darlington is a longtime head football coach in both Georgia and Florida, and led Apopka High School in Florida to three state championships in his time there. With Darlington comes his unique “single wing” offense that is sure to give opposing defenses headaches.
Darlington’s single wing combines concepts of the “wing-T” and “flex bone” offenses with “spread” concepts, as well. He’s been running his hybrid version of an offense that is as old as football itself since 2006.
Darlington’s unique offense will have plenty of talent to work with in his first year at Enterprise with his son fullback/quarterback Jackson Darlington, Elite 11 tailback Josh McCray, wingback Jalen Cunningham, running back Mykal Johnson and receiver Quentin Hayes all likely to make a splash in the Wildcat’s “single wing” in 2019.
Jackson Darlington brings a wealth of knowledge of his father’s offense to the Wildcat offense – along with more than 1,200 yards passing in 2018 at Apopka – and will be called on as one of the team’s leaders.
“He has so much experience with our system but having grown up as my son and having played for me he knows what I expect and he knows about having that standard of winning at a program,” Rick Darlington said. “He’s a good conduit between me and the players and that sometimes puts him in a tough situation.
“That’s not an easy position to be in for a football player. It’s beneficial to me but for him it probably makes it a little harder to be one of the guys sometimes. But he’s definitely not just a really good player, he’s also a very good leader.”
McCray – who totaled nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns in 2018 – will also be called on as a leader in 2019.
“Josh McCray is insanely talented,” Rick Darlington said. “He’s just physically gifted. He can run, he can catch, he has great ball skills and he can block. He’s just a really special talent. You don’t see guys like him come along every season.”
McCray started two games as a freshman at running back in 2017 before a shoulder injury sidelined him the remainder of his season and in 2018 he moved to wide receiver where he led the team in receiving. In 2019, McCray will be moving back to running back as he takes on the tailback role in the “single wing.”
With even more touches, and the fact that he will likely line up in multiple positions again in 2019, McCray is poised for an even bigger season than his Elite 11 2018.
Joining Jackson Darlington and McCray in the backfield will be Cunningham at wingback. The speedster moves from wide receiver – where he caught 19 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns last season – to the wing in 2019 and gives Enterprise a shifty, quick back to go along with McCray and Jackson Darlington’s power.
Another running back that will get a lot of touches is freshman Mykal Johnson, who will play both tailback and wingback this season. Enterprise fans got a preview of what Johnson will provide in the future during the spring game when he scampered to a 75-yard touchdown on the game’s very first play from scrimmage.
Sophomore Quentin Hayes will split time between receiver and quarterback for the Wildcats. Rick Darlington said that he trusts Hayes at the quarterback spot when Jackson Darlington needs takes a breather, while Hayes can also make plays as a receiver in the passing game.
Anchoring the Enterprise offensive line will be outside tackle Fernando Diaz and the 345-pound inside tackle Michael Cox. Diaz is coming off of a 2018 season where he earned all-state honors despite the Wildcats frustrations across the offensive line.
Rick Darlington isn’t the only one with championship level success on his staff, either. Rick Darlington brought along Jed Kennedy – who was a state-champion winning head coach in the State of Wisconsin – to run his defense.
While Kennedy hasn’t moved to make wholesale changes in the Enterprise defense – the Wildcats will still run a base 3-4 defense as it did under former coach David Faulkner – he’s looked to simplify some of the coverages and terminology on the defense as well as simply improve fundamentals.
Rick Darlington said that he feels like the Wildcat defensive line is one of the deepest positions on the defense.
“I think our defensive line could be really good,” Rick Darlington said. “We have five guys that we can roll in and out that I feel really good about.”
Those five guys include Eufaula-transfer DJ Turner, Larry Magwood, Shaheem Gray, Sam Veal and former linebacker Anthony Calloway.
Magwood and Calloway both were starters on the Enterprise defense in 2018 with Calloway starting nine games and recording 54 tackles and three tackles-for-loss.
Magwood also started eight games and amassed 23 tackles and four tackles-for-loss.
Turner was a star on the defensive line for Eufaula before transferring to Enterprise in the winter.
Linebacker is another position the Wildcats could improve in 2019 with seniors KD McCray and Robert Ellis returning from injury. KD McCray led Enterprise with 45 tackles and nine tackles-for-loss through five games last season before going down with a season ending knee injury.
Ellis recorded 32 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss before an ankle injury ended his season last year, as well. Junior Justin Winters is also expected to see plenty of time at inside linebacker.
Tanner Rogers (23 tackles) moves from safety, where he started five games in 2018, and LZ Leonard (30 tackles, three pass breakups) moves from cornerback, both to outside linebacker.
The defensive secondary will see some of the most change on the defense. Romaine McFarland (67 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and one interception) moves from safety to cornerback and Jaylon Webster (31 tackles, two tackles-for-loss) will remain at another cornerback spot.
Manning the two safety spots in the defensive secondary will be Jackson Darlington and Josh McCray. The two offensive stars are just some of the expected two-way players that Rick Darlington expects to use in year one.
Ellis will also play tight end on offense, while Magwood spends time at hammerback and Cunningham plays cornerback.
“We’ll play five or more guys both ways this season for serious minutes,” Rick Darlington said. “I’ve never done that at this level of football. This is a territory that, we as a staff, are unfamiliar with and are trying to move through for the first time.”
Rick Darlington said that the important thing is getting those two-way players reps not just in practice but early on in the season, rather than waiting for “bigger” games to play them two-ways.
“If you play them both ways you can’t just do it when you need them, you have to do it all the time so they can get used to it,” Rick Darlington emphasized. “If I don’t play Jackson or Josh (on defense) until the Auburn game and then all of a sudden throw them in there they won’t be ready for it.
“We have to play them in all the games like that and get them those snaps so we can know how many snaps they can play before they need to rest and whether we need to rest them on offense or defense. If we have special players I’d rather have them on the field than standing next to me when we can use them.”
Senior kicker/punter Hunter Perry will return to the kicking game this season and Josh McCray and Cunningham will likely share kickoff/punt return duties.
Rick Darlington said that he believes there are five phases to a football program: winter, spring, summer, the regular season and playoffs.
“If you don’t do 1-4 right then you won’t get to five,” he said. “We came in and from January to May I think we made really good gains in the weight room and were able to put in our basic systems and got people in the right positions.
“That’s kind of what you’re doing with phases one and two with spring football included in there. The summer really separates teams from others.”
The Wildcats worked hard on conditioning in the summer and Rick Darlington believes they’ve continued to improve over the summer.
“Our biggest thing in the summer is to get into shape and work on conditioning,” Rick Darlington said. “We don’t want to wait until fall to do conditioning. We do conditioning every single day that we lift weights and I think we’ve gotten into better shape and that’s helped us along with being able to work on the football side of things three days a week.”
When asked what the team’s goals for the season would be in 2019, Rick Darlington said he didn’t want to put a number of wins out as a goal but rather a mindset.
“I want us to play hard and have the type of team that never quits and has a ‘you’re never out of the fight’ mentality,” he said. “I want a disciplined football team that plays good football.
“When coaches like (former Enterprise) Coach (Bill) Bacon look at our team I want them to say to themselves, ‘they’re playing good, disciplined football.’ I want to have a tough team and I want a team that plays hard every single snap.”
Rick Darlington said playing with that toughness will be key into building back up the EHS program and even though he doesn’t want to put a number of wins out there as a goal, he isn’t looking to win three years from now. The plan is to win now.
“Right now we’re building the foundation of this thing but that’s not to say that I have a three or five-year plan because you don’t get to do that now a days,” Rick Darlington reemphasized. “Even if you did (get to do that) it isn’t fair to the seniors you have now. If we can be disciplined, tough and play hard that’s what I’d like our football team to be.”