Miller Career Academy head football coach Sorrell Harvey and his Phoenix are due for a good season-ending finish. Close-out games have not been good to them lately. Few good teams can claim such nightmare-like finishes as the Phoenix the last two seasons.
. Two years ago, they appeared destined for a deep postseason run in Missouri Class 4, after upsetting Class 6 powerhouse DeSmet 20-17 at its stadium during the regular season. However, later in the regular season finale at Roosevelt, with a playoff berth on the line, they squandered a 26-7 halftime lead and lost 30-26, sending the host Rough Riders to the postseason instead.
Last season, after making the playoffs and routing host Festus 42-14 in the first round,the Phoenix unraveled in the second half against Gateway Tech. They yielded 23 unanswered points in the second half, and had an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers on the night, as Gateway Tech rolled to a 52-14 wipeout.
Thus, Career Academy ended the 2011 campaign at 8-3, just as it had the previous season at 8-2 with a most forgettable finish.
After the 30-26 Roosevelt meltdown, Harvey talked about his club’s inability to play hard the entire four quarters that afternoon. After the Gateway Tech debacle, he talked about his club’s penchant for drive-killing fumbles that night.
It remains to be seen in what manner Career Academy will end the 2011 campaign. Nevertheless, Career Academy certainly got off on the right foot again, by rolling past host Eldon High in central Missouri 34-22 last Friday night, with a host of new starters contributing to the victory
Senior quarterback Trevon King (6-2, 190), who got considerable snaps as starter Ramon Strickland’s backup last season, stepped up into the primary role and made a superb debut. King completed 21 of 29 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring strikes to senior wide receiver Marvante King (5-9,170) of 24 and 43 yards, a 38-yarder to sophomore running back Jaylan James (5-11,210) and a 13-yarder to junior receiver Mark Frazier (5-10,160).
Given Harvey’s confidence in King during training camp, his opening performance was not unexpected.
Defensively, the Phoenix’s top defender in that season opener was their most dominant defender of last year, senior linebacker Gabriel “Ox” Loyd, last year’s Public High League defensive player of the year. The 6-foot-230-pound bruiser,Loyd had a total of 20 tackles, including 13 solos in the game.
After racking up a prolific 153 tackles, six fumble recoveries, four sacks and two interceptions last year, Loyd(number 44 in white jersey in photo above), was voted the Public High League’s defensive player of the year and he already appears to be in ‘midseason form’, as evidenced by his numbers.
Likewise a slew of new starters also produced for the Career Academy defense, which graduated its second and third-most productive players behind Loyd, in Lamore Wise (134 tackles and nine sacks) and Markeese Marbley (83 tackles). Be that as it may,sophomore linebacker Ra’Sheen Bolden (5-11, 190) had seven solos and four assists, sophomore cornerback DeBion Twitty (5-10,155) had seven solos and three assists and fellow defensive back, sophomore Travis Riley (5-10,175) had six solos and three assists.
The fact that so many young, first-year varsity starters did so well in their debut, may be a testament to the Phoenix’s junior varsity feeder program, which has been a perfect 16-0 the past two seasons.
“They were undefeated as freshmen and sophomores, but last year we only got scored upon three times,” said Phoenix junior varsity coach Richard Cowper proudly.
The combination of former junior varsity additions coupled with enough returning veterans, will certainly make the Phoenix a legitimate threat to win the PHL this season, Their North Side PHL rivals, the Vashon Wolverines were the prohibitive favorite in the coaches and media polls to capture the PHL. But the Wolverines were upset on Thursday night 41-30, by what was considered to be a rebuilding Gateway Tech Jaguars team, which graduated about 20 players last year, after winning the PHL decisive last year.
Along with the aforementioned players, Career Academy also boasts enormous size up front, on the interior line with veterans Louis Sanchez (6-0,362), Charles Ryland (6-1, 360) and Charles Jordan (5-10,275).
“Those are my best anchors up front,” said Harvey. “No one can stop us up front if they play their best. Those are my workhorses.”
Last year’s offensive line help spring Wise loose for 1,081 yards and Marbley for 785 yards, as those two players contributed heavily on both sides of the ball. With those players gone, senior Devan Roberts (6-0, 170) is expected to see considerable more action, after rushing for 392 yards last year on just 43 carries. He will join James and sophomore Marquise Stewart (5-9,175) as the primary running backs.
Career Academy also graduated its top receiver in Devin Buford, who snared 33 passes for 714 yards, but there appears to be enough depth to offset that loss as well. Senior Darrell Lomax (5-9,162) caught eight passes for 218 yards last season, while Riley, Frazier and sophomore Javon Collard (5-8,145) are among the talented varsity newcomers at the wideout positions. Some of the receivers will also double-up as secondary starters and likewise for the linemen. But Loyd will be the anchor of the defense again and King has assumed controls of the offense on a full-time basis.
“I like the way he’s throwing the ball now,” said Harvey of King a week before the Eldon game. “He had another offseason to learn our system better.”
Based on early returns, the Phoenix appear to be solid again. The only question may be will they be able to play up to their potential when their season is on the line?
Unfortunately for the Phoenix, they have also suffered from late-season bad luck. For example, in the Roosevelt game, then star quarterback Demarco Billups played on a badly-sprained ankle. Then on the second-half kickoff, Billups lost lost his top healthy receiver, Alexis Nunley, who had caught two touchdown passes in the first half, to an injury.
As fate would have it, the Phoenix had already lost their most productive receiver, Buford, to a knee injury a few a few games before that Roosevelt defeat. As a result, the team had to finish that contest with the starting quarterback hobbled and his top two receivers injured. But as noted, they may have enough depth at the receiver slot to withstand an injury this time around.
The Phoenix open league play against Carnahan in a rare Tuesday night game (Sept.4) at Gateway Tech. Originally slated for Saturday, the contest was moved back a couple of days in anticipation of bad weather on Saturday. Kickoff for Career Academy- Carnahan is set for 6:30.