Saints must learn quick under new coach

Published 9:02 am Friday, August 28, 2009

“Enthusiastic” and “new”, those are the buzz words for Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s football team through the preseason practices, workouts and scrimmages under new head coach Kevin Allen.

Allen, who was an assistant coach last year a few miles down Route 58 at Lakeland, was hired as NSA’s head coach during the summer, later than most high school gridiron coaching changes.

Allen’s been trying to make up for lost time with his energy. The coach counts himself fortunate as NSA’s seniors have been actively leading the team through the offseason.

“The guys are responding well to my direction and my enthusiasm,” said Allen, “and they’re working hard, so that’s making it easy on me.”

Allen played defensive back collegiately at Virginia St., then professionally in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. He’s coached in various assistant roles collegiately and at the high school level before being hired by NSA for his first head coaching job.

“We’re progressing very well, faster than I thought we would,” said Allen.

That’s good for the Saints as the season quickly approaches, especially since Allen is installing new strategies on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the Saints had their first live action for a new veer option attack last week against Poquoson. While there were some struggles and slow-developing plays, the Saints also hurt Poquoson with a few big runs.

Defensively, the Saints used a five-man defensive line. With Allen’s playing career making it natural, defense is where most of his expertise is. As with most seasons for the Saints, players going both ways, and the fatigue that causes, will be a challenge.

Johnny Horton, a senior, doubles as the starting center and a defensive tackle. “We started pretty early in the summer working on the new schemes. We’re getting it pretty well, but it’ll still take a while to learn it.”

Kenny Rice, also a senior, who is the Saints’ main running back, a starting cornerback and probably one of NSA’s top returners on kicks, will be on the field for nearly every snap this season.

“Coach is very easy to approach. He just brings a lot of energy to the team. We believe we’re going to win states,” said Rice. “We’re definitely going to be a running team, and that’s good because we have a huge line.”

The line is headed up by senior tackle, and defensive end, Baron Goodman. At 6-foot-4, 283 pounds, Goodman is getting recruiting interest from Division I-A schools.

“We’re running an offense he knows gives him trouble on defense,” said Rice.

The Saints were 5-5 last season, but only one win away from being undefeated in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools, and probably only a win away from reaching the VIS Division II state playoffs. NSA’s one conference loss was a 20-14 setback at Norfolk Academy. In NSA’s five wins, the closest margin was 21 points. Out of NSA’s five losses, three came by six points or less.