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Braves hope to reach playoffs again despite roster turnover

by | Aug 16, 2023 | Sports

Community High School had a winning record during the regular season, district season and made the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

In fact, the Braves had a winning record for the first time in 17 years, showing the growth and leadership under head coach Dustin Blann. With eight starters returning on the offense and defense, the team has some questions heading into the 2023 season.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for guys to go out and earn a spot,” Blann said. “We lost a really good class last year and those guys we owe a lot to. They had a lot of success and we feel like it’s going to be tough. We still have a lot of guys coming back who were key contributors.”

Two of the contributors lie in the backfield, as fullback Gabe Duron and wingback Kannon Roan both return after impactful seasons with the Braves. Duron is the team’s leading returning rusher with 737 yards and five touchdowns last season, while Roan had one touchdown on the ground. Roan also had five touchdown receptions in 2022 as well.

In Community’s wing-T style of offense, both players and quarterback Koren Ewing, who saw the field last season and takes over as the starter in 2023, will get plenty of carries this upcoming season.

“We have an identity,” Blann said. “Some people have a hard time finding that but we know who we are. We can adjust based on skill sets, but we’ve established a strong identity of what we want to do. This is year four for me and these seniors have now been in our program every year, which gives us a sense of confidence on what we want to do and the kids buying into that.”

Part of that identity the Braves created was built on the strength and physicality they have on the line of scrimmage. While Jack Scott returns to the offensive and defensive line at left tackle, Community will have several new faces on both sides of the ball, including replacing standout graduates on defense in Jackson Younger and Hayden Tanner.

The Braves will likely have three new starting defensive linemen but still return three starters on the offensive line for next season. How the team can fill out the lineup could be crucial to the team’s success.

“That is going to be key, we’ve had some really good offensive linemen,” Blann said. “I think Jack is capable of continuing that tradition and he might’ve been our best offensive linemen by the end of last season. We’re looking to continue that tradition up front and looking to be solid in that spot.”

Jaylan Clark is also a senior who joins Scott on the line of scrimmage, providing the veteran leadership Community needs on that line of scrimmage. They’ll be tasked with paving the way for Duron and Roan, who did a good job of establishing a physical running attack last season.

“We’re looking for Gabe to be Gabe and Kannon to be the same as last year when he was on the field,” Blann said. “We trust them and hope they can keep playing at a high level for us.”

One player on offense to watch for the Braves this season is Brandon Mills Jr., who joins the team after moving from South Oak Cliff this past year. With last season’s top rusher Quinton Hall among the graduating class, the key for Community will be to find explosive plays in the offense and they hope Mills can be that player in the offense.

“We’re excited to have him in our running back spot and he’s gone through the offseason and the summer with us,” Blann said. “We’re excited to see what he can do his senior year.”

Defensively, Community is emphasizing their team speed this year heading into the new season. While they don’t have the returning production in the front seven, returning first-team all-district cornerback Sheldon Adams will lead the defense from the secondary. The 6-foot-1 cornerback had two interceptions last season and is regarded as one of the top players and athletes on the team.

Coach Blann said the key for the defense this year is to cater the game plan to the strength of the kids on the roster.

“We have talented players we just want to utilize them all properly,” Blann said. “We had big, strong guys up front and this year, we have guys who are quick and can really run. Sheldon is going to do his job and we’re going to stay physical, but this could be the fastest defense we put on the field.”

Community’s season opens on Friday, Aug. 25 at home against Caddo Mills. They’ll have two home non-district games against the Foxes and North Lamar before traveling to Sanger, Farmersville and Dallas Lincoln for the final non-district game.

“Our numbers have grown and we’re giving a lot of kids an opportunity to go and earn a starting spot,” Blann said. “It’s a great feeling to see all this energy and all these players going out to play. It’ll be fun to see how some of them perform under the Friday Night Lights.”

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