Eagles’ execution set to be strong point in 2020

By Maurice Patton

Brad Lowery warns that Zion Christian may not be as productive offensively as the 2019 team was – but that’s understandable, considering the Eagles will be without four-year starting signalcaller Mark Lowery, who threw for 2,000-plus yards and 24 touchdowns last season.

“We’re not going to be as explosive as we were last year, but we’re executing well,” Lowery said as preseason workouts wound down. “We’re really looking better than I was really expecting.

“We’ve got a mostly senior offensive line, and that’s helped us a lot. At the skill positions, we’re going to be OK. We’ve got a couple of kids that have come out that hadn’t played, and they’re going to help us a lot.”

Seniors Zach Knowles and Jaden Keyser will hold down the left side of the offensive front for Zion, at tackle and guard, with classmate Connor Matheny set to start at right guard. Seth King, a junior, is slated for the starting nod at center, with fellow junior Colby Phelps set to play right tackle.

Stepping in for the departed Lowery will be junior Luke Perko, who saw limited duty under center last fall.

“He’s ahead of the game right now,” coach Lowery said. “He knows the offense, knows what everybody’s supposed to do. We do have two guys – freshman Elisha Nieves and sophomore Jaron Keyser – who we’re comfortable in what we’re doing with them as well.”

Sam Duffy will be the Eagles’ primary ballcarrier; Lowery’s been impressed with his improvement since his sophomore season. Freshman Logan Abbott will be his backup, and the two may allow Zion to be a bit more run-oriented than usual to take advantage of its experienced trench unit.

Sam Sullivan, who managed to be an impact receiver in a limited period of time last year, will lead that group along with Max Brown and tight end Davis Duffy – “pound for pound, he’s probably the strongest kid we have,” Lowery said.

Senior Dillan Runions will play the H-back for the Eagles, in addition to safety/linebacker duties on defense.

“He’s very easy to coach. He knows football, he’s very smart,” Lowery said of Runions. “I wish we had 25 of him.”

With a roster of 21 players, many of the same names on offense will see time defensively. Besides Runions, Brown, Sullivan and Josh Patterson will likely make up the Eagles’ secondary.

Sam Duffy, Perko and Lucas Ricketts will be the primary linebackers, behind a defensive line including Jaden Keyser, Phelps and Knowles.

Sullivan and freshman Caleb Keys will likely share kicking duties.

“I think Sam is glad he’s out this year,” Lowery said. “I think he regretted waiting till late in the year last year (to join the team). He’s a player, a heck of an athlete and a good kid.”

With the coronavirus pandemic looming over fall sports, Lowery said he and his team are trying to remain as positive as possible heading into the Aug. 21 opener at Grace Christian.

“We’re going to practice like we’re playing all 10 (games),” he said.