Young Cats making an impact
By Josh Boutwell
A big group of juniors and seniors make up the nucleus of the 2020 Enterprise Wildcats football team, but a number of freshmen and sophomores are always leaving a mark on this team.
Veteran upperclassmen like Josh McCray, LZ Leonard, Jaylen Webster, Jared Smith and Quentin Hayes get the lion’s share of the headlines, but several freshmen and sophomores have earned and continue to earn playing time for the Cats.
“We’d almost rather play a young guy unless an older guy is clearly better because you have time (with the younger player),” Enterprise head coach Rick Darlington said. “Experience can only come over time. Our most efficient players are guys that started last year and took their lumps last year.
“We have a sign up in the locker room that says, ‘experience is a hard teacher. The test is given first and the lesson is given afterward,’ which is true.”
Veteran players like McCray, Leonard and Jalen Cunningham all played and even started as freshmen, as well. Enterprise’s current leading rusher Mykel Johnson led the Wildcats in rushing as a freshman in 2019, as well. Sophomores Aiden White, Sam Whitaker, Tysen Cole, Preston Powell and Drake McDaniel have all earned significant playing time and, in some cases, starts. Cole has started all five Wildcat games at safety and Whitaker has rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
White has made his presence felt at wide receiver – catching a 78-yard touchdown pass against Davidson – but also serves as Hayes’ backup at quarterback. He saw his first action there against Carroll on Sept. 25.
“We wanted to play him more (at quarterback),” Darlington said. “That was the goal, to get the lead and rest Quentin and play Aiden, but Carroll had a different plan. Once they got back to within six we put (Hayes) back in.”
Johnson rushed for more than 900 yards as a freshman last season and is the team's leading rusher again so far this season. This season, freshmen Wyatt Darlington and Keion Dunlap have also carved out roles for themselves on the offense.
“Every time you see a ninth grader like Keion or Wyatt playing that’s an investment, because you know down the road that guy is probably going to be a leader and a good player for you,” Rick Darlington emphasized.
Dunlap spent the majority of the summer at cornerback – where he was expected to contribute this season, but the 5-foot-11-inch, 172-pound ninth grader was moved to fullback where he has remained.
“Keion has a role. He plays in certain packages and he’s getting better,” Rick Darlington said. “For now, he’s going to be on offense because it’s really hard to play guys both ways, especially young guys. The things we’re doing on offense and the things (defensive coordinator) Jed (Kennedy) is doing with coverage’s, it’s just hard to throw a guy over there and tell him to go cover someone. We’ve never said what we’re doing is simple.”
Wyatt Darlington is Rick Darlington’s fourth son to play for him, and he said that all of them have played early.
“I’ve always played them early because I knew if I could find a role for them they could get better and better,” Rick Darlington said. “(Wyatt) has his little niche. They’ve all kind of played roles as freshmen. He does what he needs to do and is getting better and as time goes by he’ll get better and better and will be a good team leader.”
Rick Darlington’s oldest son, Ty Darlington, was an Army All-American offensive tackle at Apopka High School (Fla.) before earning All-Big 12 and All America honors at Oklahoma. Zack Darlington was an All-State quarterback at Apopka before going on to play at Florida. Jackson Darlington earned Elite 11 honors and led Enterprise back to the playoffs last season before earning a scholarship to Air Force.
Wyatt Darlington has played tight end and blocking back for Enterprise this season and scored his first two varsity touchdowns against Carroll, one receiving and one rushing.
“Wyatt is a little different in that he has some skill set – he can throw the ball – like a quarterback but he’s not as swift as what I like a quarterback to be,” Rick Darlington said of his youngest son. “Ty started as a freshman and Zack and Jackson had roles as freshmen like Wyatt has.”
The young Wildcats will continue to grow as they see the field more and Rick Darlington said the hope is those young Cats that are seeing the field this year can be the leaders when headliners like McCray, Leonard and Webster graduate.