CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It’s a school rich in football tradition, and Independence head coach Bill Geiler knows that just about as well as anybody.
As he enters the second year of his second coaching stint with the Patriots, Geiler wants to get the school back to the days of state championship-caliber play.
Geiler was the head coach in 2004 when the Patriots were one of, if not the best teams in the nation. That’s a long cry from last season’s 3-8 finish.
“We had young kids who had never played varsity before,” Geiler said. “It was a hard situation for us. Now they have a year of experience.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools realignment left Geiler with about 40 fewer football players last season, meaning many fresh faces were forced into action in the tough Southwestern 4A Conference. Geiler’s mentality leans against two-way players, making it more difficult to find able bodies to fill the depth chart.
On offense, the Patriots’ pass-heavy approach won’t be changing anytime soon. Joe Evans is the new offensive coordinator, shifting from wide receivers coach last year.
Quarterback Evan Guest threw for more yards than any other quarterback in the county, Geiler said, and the Butler High School transfer has added about 20 pounds in the offseason.
“He didn’t know anybody last year. He had to learn a new system, and a new school,” Geiler said of his 6-3 quarterback. “He’s been great in camps and combines. We’re looking for great things out of him.”
Guest will have the services of Austin Duke at wide receiver this fall. Duke has a scholarship offer Division II Catawba College. The Patriots top two tailbacks have graduated, leaving RJ Baker and sophomore Isiah Robinson to fill the gap.
Defense was an issue all last season, and Independence brings back three starters but will be hurt by the loss of big defensive lineman Jimmy Gibson. The two-time All-Conference selection moved to Mississippi in the offseason.
But outside linebacker Khalil Gonzalez is a three-year starter and will be asked to help mature a pair of sophomore linebackers with him. Gonzalez will be the signal caller on defense.
“If we elected captains right now he’d be unanimous choice. He’s that kind of leader,” Geiler said. “He never wants a break. He doesn’t ever want to come out.”
Joining Gonzalez to help solidify the defense is senior end Brandon Jackson. At 6-0, 190 pounds, Jackson’s figure isn’t intimidating, but his 4.5 second 40-yard dash speed sure is.
“His arms go from one end to the other,” Geiler said. “We’re going to have some grea things happen with him. He will be a handful.”
Keep an eye on junior Jack Tocho, who, like Jackson, is fast off the ball. The track athlete is a speed demon, according to his coach, and will be a big addition in the secondary.
The Patriots begin practice Saturday at 8 a.m. in preparations for a week one contest at Hough High School. Geiler is close friends with Huskeis head coach Bobby Collins.
"We’ve got four good games to start the non-conference with,” Geiler said. “And our conference is the toughest in the state of North Carolina every year."
8/19 @ Hough
8/26 @ N. Mecklenburg
9/9 West Charlotte
9/16 @ E. Mecklenburg
9/23 Ardrey Kell
9/30 @ Providence
10/6 S. Mecklenburg
10/14 Rocky River
10/21 @ Myers Park