Experienced Providence Grove Patriots look primed for more on football field

Chase Whitaker will remain a key part of Providence Grove’s defense, but his role might expand on offense. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

Providence Grove’s large senior class could pay off

CLIMAX – Two of the most productive players from Providence Grove’s special 2021 football team are gone.

But don’t feel bad for the Patriots because they’re bustling with experience.

“A lot of people assume that we’re going to be pretty good,” said coach Calvin Brown, whose roster has 22 seniors. “I think that experience and being a year older is going to make a difference. We’re not relying on a lot of youth this year.”

A second-place finish in the Piedmont Athletic Conference signaled a breakthrough for Providence Grove a year ago. Now, there could be more to come.

“I think we’ve got a good season lined up,” senior linebacker Chase Whitaker said. “If there’s going to be something big, hopefully this can be the year for it.”

Last season’s 8-3 team racked up a school-record 426 points. Often, big scoring games were needed.

“I don’t think we’ll have to score as much,” Brown said. “We might have to rely on defense.”

With nine starters back on the defensive unit, there’s a solid foundation.

That probably begins with Whitaker, who was the PAC Defensive Player of the Year last season. He shifts from middle linebacker to outside linebacker.

“He has a nose for the football,” Brown said. “If there’s a big play to be made on defense, he’s there. We’ve also got pieces to go around him.”

Whitaker, a 180-pounder, averaged 14.1 tackles per game and Karson Bowman, also a returnee, made 10.7 stops per game.

There are also 11 juniors, so the only one sophomore on the 34-player varsity roster is quarterback candidate and linebacker Brady Collins.

The Patriots, who open Friday night at home against East Davidson, are bound to go with a combination of quarterbacks. Whitaker, who was a tight end last year on offense, and senior Andrew Canter are also contenders. Whitaker might be a better runner, while Canter is a more accurate thrower.

“It may take a little time to figure it out,” Brown said. “Adjusting to that, I think our team has handled it well.”

This curiosity about the passing attack comes because four-year starting quarterback Luke Thomas, who set numerous school records, and team scoring and receiving leader Caleb Rogers were seniors last season.

“I’m excited to do it,” Whitaker said. “I’m not Luke Thomas. It’s hard to replace him. I can run the ball decent. … I don’t think it will wear me out too much.”

He posted four touchdowns with short-yardage runs last year.

Whitaker missed summer football workouts as he recovered from May surgery to have a cyst removed from his back.

The offensive weapons are numerous. Two-way players will include running back / safety Zane Cheek and running back / cornerback Zander Cheek. Zane Cheek racked up 89.5 yards per game on the ground last year.

Twins Joe Coltrane and Lemuel Coltrane could be keys among receivers.

Last week, Providence Grove took on Burlington Williams, Southern Alamance and Winston-Salem Reynolds in scrimmages. Those were challenges against larger schools.

“We kind of did it for a reason to prepare for the top level of competition,” Brown said.

By Bob Sutton