HEAD COACH: J.R. Kirby (4th season)

LAST YEAR: 10-3, lost to Dyersburg in 3A state quarterfinals

RETURNING STARTERS: 7 offense, 7 defense

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KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: DB A.C. Mason-Young, RB Jamarion Dowell, OL Dorian Robinson, DL Ian Robinson, RB Skylan Smith, OL Jasper Hunter, LB Kydric Mason, DL Malakai Somerville, DL Atyrun Smith, QB Braden Gover

KEY PLAYERS LOST: QB Jalen Fayne, LB Christian Barbee, RB Torris Smith, OL Chris Godwin, DL Eumorrion Flowers, QB Tanner Stewart

For Covington fans heading to the stadium to watch the Chargers play this season, there will be three things that will be unfamiliar.

The Chargers will have white helmets, a switch from the gold ones that have been used for the past couple of decades or so.

Head coach J.R. Kirby showed his team an example of white helmets a few months ago and they players approved of them.

“They thought I was playing, wasn’t serious,” Kirby said. “I surprised them with them and the kids really liked them. They turned out pretty sharp.”

Kirby said there was some push back about the change on social media, but the attitude was mainly positive.

The second unfamiliar thing is the new turf field, which makes its debut in the season opener on Thursday. Incredibly, there was some criticism about that on social media as well, but, well, you know how social media is.

Number three? New LED lights. It’s hard to imagine people complaining about better lights, but you never know.

What won’t be unfamiliar is the look of the roster. It’s classic Covington with speedy running backs (including a Mr. Football candidate), an experienced offensive line and an aggressive, uber-athletic defense.

The offense starts with senior Jamarion Dowell. A Mr. Football semifinalist in 2021, Dowell rushed for 1,479 yards and 20 touchdowns a season ago despite missing two games. He averaged 8.7 yards per carry.

“He had a great offseason and he’s looking to have a great year,” Kirby said about Dowell, who ran for more than 100 yards in each of the Chargers’ three preseason scrimmages. “He’s going to be the man. He’s going to tote it.”

Dowell said his personal goal is to rush for 2,000 yards and win Mr. Football.

If Dowell reaches his 2,000-yard goal, he will pass Johnston White and become Covington’s all-time leading rusher. That’s really saying something considering the backs who have come through Covington. Dowell needs 1,951 yards to surpass White’s 4,830-yard total.

Skylan Smith will be another serious threat. He rushed for 403 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman starter a year ago. Junior Collin McDaniel and senior Alin Franklin are two more options in the backfield.

A. C. Mason-Young will be a big part of Covington’s offense and defense in 2022. Photo by David Perry

Another option fans will be excited about is senior A.C. Mason-Young, who has been offered by the University of Tennessee. He’s mainly known as one of the best safeties in the state, but he could be more involved in the offense this year as a wingback. He had 25 carries for 211 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.

Kirby acknowledged Mason-Young could get more touches on offense in 2022, but said his defensive contributions are immeasurable.

“He will wow you at camps with his speed and things like that, but when you see his motor and how he plays on Friday night, that’s what really wows people,” Kirby said. “He plays extremely hard. You’ll see plays where he’s on one side of the field and makes a play on the complete other side of the field. That’s just who he is.”

He played some outside linebacker some last year and teams ran the ball to the other side. Kirby said Mason-Young will play in the middle of the field at free safety this year so offenses cannot avoid him.

The quarterback position last year seemed to constantly be in flux. Jalen Fayne played the position through all the preseason scrimmages. Then, in the season opener vs. Munford, Tanner Stewart played the position. It was partly because Stewart had been battling injuries are partly, as Kirby admitted, to throw off preseason scouting reports. Stewart played for a few games before injured and Fayne was back in. Later in the season Stewart returned. It all added up to just 236 passing yards for Covington.

Kirby acknowledged 236 yards is not enough, even for a team like Covington which is known as a run-first program. Junior Braden Gover, who took a few snaps last year, is the starter now.

“He can throw the football and he can run it a little bit,” Kirby said. “He reminds me of a younger (Brock) Lomax in a way. He can spin it. That’s kind of been our Achille’s heel the last couple of seasons, not being able to throw it consistently. That’s something we’re working on. I think that’s one thing that’s kept us from getting where we want to be … We made a conscious effort this offseason, spring, summer and fall camp to work on the passing game and try to dial that in. It’s still a work in progress, but I feel like we’ll be fine.”

Dowell said he likes the way Gover has looked in the preseason.

“He can really throw the ball,” Dowell said. “I think he’s taking charge of the offense. He’s going to lead us.”

Senior Jasper Hunter, a two-year starter at center, said, “He’s been looking good. He can sling the rock for sure.”

Blake Travis, Jordan Haley and Hakeem Hudson are likely candidates to step up at wideout.

Several defensive starters are back this season. Malakai Somerville, Atyrun Smith and Ian Robinson are experienced defensive linemen. Dorian Robinson, an experienced linebacker, said he expects the defense to be strong this year.

“Our defense is really strong this year,” he said. “It’s good at stopping the run. We need to work on stopping the pass and getting into position.”

Added Mason-Young: “We’ve looked pretty good so far, playing hard-nosed football. We just need to get better at some things we lack on. We’re looking pretty solid so far.”

Jeff Ireland
Author: Jeff Ireland