Laurel football coach optimistic with veterans on horizon

In his third season as Laurel head coach Todd Sommerville is most optimistic because the Spartans return a slew of veterans.

The Spartans are banking on eight returning starters on defense and seven on offense to help lead them to a breakthrough season after going 1-9 last season and 2-8 in 2011.

The vibe is different this season.

"I feel right now we are in a pretty good position to be competitive in the league," Sommerville said. "We have a lot of the pieces in place. Last year, we were playing with a really young team with very little experience."

Senior Mason Duckett (5-11, 175) steps into the starting role at quarterback after the graduation of Jaruis McClam, the 2013 Laurel Leader Athlete of the Year.

McClam, now playing at Division III Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, threw for 1,090 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for seven more and 644 yards.

"It's hard filling the shoes of a guy like Jaruis," Sommerville said.

But Duckett is ready to show his stuff with a strong arm running the spread offense.

He learned as McClam's understudy last year.

"When he is at his best, he is very hard to stop," said Sommerville, who will call the offensive plays after serving as defensive coordinator the last two seasons. "His delivery is really good and he is a better thrower than runner."

The running back position, featuring seniors Damon Bailey (5-8, 175) and Brandon Boodie (5-6, 150) and junior Keyon Pannell (5-9, 170), should be an improvement because of its depth.

"We have three really solid guys, who all bring something different to the table," the coach said. "All three can make an impact."

Wide receiver could be another offensive strength.

Seniors Brendan Clinton (5-10, 175), Justin Williams (5-9, 155) and Malik Harvin (5-7, 155) all return to the starting lineup with big-play potential.

"It's definitely a big help to Mason to have experience at the position," Sommerville said. "He will have that extra edge to be able to complete passes."

Senior tackle Jalil Dukes (5-10, 240) and junior guard Kalu Uche (5-8, 240) are back anchoring the line.

Talented brothers Mylic (5-11, 260), a center, and Michael Curry (5-11, 260), a guard, will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup.

On defense, the Spartans are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Delbert Hughes, who coached the Laurel defensive and offensive lines last season.

"It comes down to speed and simplicity," Sommerville said of the change. "The defense the past two years was a little more complex than we were ready to handle. They are reacting quicker than they have in the past."

There are returning starters at every position on defense.

Linebacker could be the best area with senior Jerry Warren (5-11, 180), sophomore Elijah Korkayah (5-9, 185) and Bailey.

The line, spearheaded by Dukes and Uche, has a lot of potential.

In the secondary, Boddie, Harvin and Clinton, will be the leaders.

"Our key to the season is execution and keeping our composure," Sommerville said. "If we do those two things, we will be competitive with everybody. Going back to the losing ways is my biggest concern. If one thing goes wrong, then all of a sudden, it's back to square one as far as mentality is concerned."

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