Banks will lean heavily on skill positions in 2021
High school football is back, and so are the Banks Braves.
But despite a 5-1 record in last school year's abbreviated season, along with a state title and two championship game appearances in the seasons prior, this year's Braves have inherited nothing. They will be forced to earn any potential success on the field.
"I spend my life talking about that," Banks head coach Cole Linehan said. "I try to remind them of times that weren't so good. You don't just put on a Banks uniform and get to win games, and that's something that we need to get out of their heads immediately.
"I'm always harping on them about the work that those previous classes put in, and the buy-in they have to have over time. It's not going to be given to you, and the moment you get complacent is the moment you get beat."
Despite the rising COVID-19 numbers in the area and throughout the state, all systems are go for the upcoming fall football season. Linehan said that while cognizant of the current situation regarding the pandemic, he said both he and his players are excited to get back to something resembling "normal" this fall.
"It's been great," the coach said. "Obviously there's concern about losing teams or if somebody gets sick, what happens next — but it's been nice going through doubles and gearing up for our usual stuff, and not the stuff we went through last March."
The Braves lost all five starting offensive lineman from last year's team, which is an obvious concern, but with viable replacements up front, this year's team has an array of skilled position players that have historically caused opposing teams fits.
Standout running back and defensive back Jamar Flippen returns, as does all-league receiver Aaron Brown and quarterback Cooper Gobel.
But in addition to the aforementioned key contributors, Linehan said they'll be leaning heavily on Cowapa League Player of the Year Charles White to do a lot of the heavy lifting — literally and figuratively.
"He's going to be our guy on both sides of the ball," Linehan said. "He hasn't skipped a beat. He came in bigger, stronger and faster than ever, and has continued to work. He's our backbone and our leader."
Gobel was a first-year starter under center last season and led the league in most statistical categories throwing the ball. Linehan said even he was surprised at how well the 6-foot-5 senior did in his first real varsity action last season, but he's expecting even more from Gobel this season with those six games under his belt.
"He's really hit the ground running this season," Linehan said. "You can tell he's more experienced, super-comfortable back in the pocket and super-comfortable with the offense."
To win games, of course, Banks will need its rebuilt offensive line. Linehan said he and his coaches are slowly figuring the new group of potential starters out, but he feels comfortable with how things have progressed in light of the situation.
"It's been a process to fill those spots, because those departed players were great players but also great leaders," Linehan said. "We've been moving guys around and asking guys to play out of position to try and find our best line. It's definitely a work in progress, and it doesn't happen overnight, but we're getting there.
"The big part is getting these guys to realize that they're leading this team now, and we're going to be relying on them to get us to our goals."
And what are those goals? The coach said that first and foremost, he wants to lead Banks to another league title. But additionally, he intends for his players to stay healthy, so they can stay on the field and play the game they've all been working so hard to play.
"I told our guys, we're doing everything by the book so that in the end we protect ourselves as much as possible," the coach said. "We're taking no shortcuts when it comes to mandates, because the goal in the end is to be playing football, and we've worked too hard to put another season at risk."
The Braves open the season at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3, against Gladstone at Kelly Field in Banks.
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