After a 17-year postseason drought, Gaston looks to make it three straight appearances

Numbers are everything at a school the size of Gaston, and football coach Reeve Woodward had one particular number on his mind this preseason: nine.

That’s the number of seniors that graduated from last year’s Gaston team, which won its first outright Northwest League championship since 1989 and earned its second consecutive state playoff bid after a 17-year absence.

Those nine seniors were largely responsible for the turnaround at Gaston, and Woodward knows that it will be all but impossible to replace them. Still, there are several key players back from last year’s team, plus a slew of young, talented players that Woodward hopes will mature and improve as the season goes on.

“We’re real young, but we’re good,” said Woodward, now in his third year at Gaston. “Right now we’re still making young, dumb mistakes, but there will be huge growth this season.

“If we can make it through our four non-league games without getting dinged up, I think this team can compete for another league championship. The talent is there, we just need to clean some things up.”

Gone from last year’s team are all-league quarterback David Carr (now a freshman at Pacific), receiver Dusty Brown, running back Kevin Reynolds and several other contributors. In their places, Woodward is hoping for several upperclassmen to emerge.

Senior Levi Watkins will take over the quarterback duties after serving as the primary backup last year. He also played some tight end and started on the defensive line, and will continue to go both ways in 2012.

Another senior two-way starter is Sam Wismer, a first team all-league selection last year as a fullback and middle linebacker. He will open holes for junior Austin Morey, a versatile player who saw the field last year as a slot receiver and defensive back, but will step into the role of starting tailback this season.

The offensive line will be a work in progress early in the season, but Woodward has handed the reins to senior Jackson Morgan, who returns as the team’s starting center and handles almost all of the line calls prior to the snap.

“We’re physically talented enough to beat anybody. We’ve just got to know our assignments and know our jobs,” Woodward said. “They’re picking it up pretty quick.”

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