Eagles hope to gain ground, leadership

Published 9:39 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

The A.L. Johnson Eagles are at work preparing for their season opener against region rival John Essex set for Aug. 27.

Fresh off a 4-6 campaign a season ago, Mose Jones is upbeat about his team’s prospects for 2009.

“We’re looking to go to the playoffs,” Jones said of his team’s goals. “I was disappointed last year and (the players) were disappointed. We just didn’t have any leadership. We only had two seniors.”

While inexperience was rampant for the team that finished fifth in the region behind Linden, Billingsley, Holy Spirit and Maplesville, the latest installment of ALJ football returns nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, including four on the front line.

In the trenches, the Eagles feature Eddie Custard, Reginald Jordan, Marcus Haywood and 6-foot-7-inch, 302-pound senior Jeron Boykin.

“We have been around,” Jones said of his offensive front, “and this will be Jeron’s fourth year staring on the offensive line. Eddie and Reginald, this is their third.”

That quartet will be responsible for protecting senior quarterback Kejuan McGhee.

“He’s been showing real good leadership all during the summer,” Jones said of McGhee. “Eddie Custard and (running back) Richard McGhee are showing the same. This team has the potential to be really good. They really do.”

Richard McGhee, cousin to the Eagles’ starting quarterback, will share the ball carrying duties with Deandre Langhorne and Ronzell Hinton. ALJ will have further depth at the position thanks to the arrival of Josh Jackson.

“Josh Jackson transferred in here from New York a year ago and sat out all of last year,” Jones said.

When he’s not in the backfield, Hinton will split out wide to the team’s flanker spot. Thelbert Staten and tight end Marcus Wood will also see their allotment of pass catching opportunities.

Jones is excited about what the Eagles bring on the offensive side of the ball, but the greatest change for the squad comes among the defensive group.

Jones attributes the alteration of his defensive scheme to the persuasive powers of some of his former players whom he encountered at the school’s annual Roderick Cade Memorial Camp in June.

“During the Rod Cade camp, a lot of my ex players came back from the ‘93 team – the first year I was here – and they kind of convinced me to switch to a 3-5 (scheme) because of how many quick people we had,” Jones said.

The adjustment to three down linemen and five linebackers figures to provide Jones the opportunity to better utilize speed.

“We’re much faster than we’ve been the last two years,” Jones said.

Up front, Boykin and Caleb Hood will challenge opposing linemen. Jones and his staff are still searching for additional help along the defensive line.

The linebacking corps features Langhorne, Hinton, Thomas Hood and Wood.

“Marcus Wood as a ninth grader might be the best on that defensive unit,” Jones said of the freshman whose athleticism will allow him to spend time at the strong safety position as well.

The Eagles’ linebacker group will also feature returning senior Custard, who led the team with more than 150 tackles last season.

The secondary will boast the talents of Kejuan McGhee and Eric Calhoun at safety while Richard McGhee and Staten will man the corner positions.

“Staten has the ability to play at the next level,” Jones said.

While his personnel groupings are set, Jones is still looking to iron out the wrinkles in his team’s execution.

“Eliminating turnovers,” he said of one of the Eagles’ primary tasks. “We turned the ball over a lot last year. We just need to be consistent and mentally tough.”

Before they host John Essex in the regular season opener, the Eagles are slated to travel to Camden Aug. 21 where they will face Wilcox-Central in a Jamboree game.

“We’re going to find out real quick what kind of team we are,” Jones said.