Yellow Jackets tinkering to replace productive backfield

By Jeff Nations

FRONT ROYAL — You can’t help but feel the Randolph-Macon Academy Yellow Jackets got a bit short-changed last season, through no fault of their own.

Two opponents folded their programs just before the season, and bad weather made another game impossible to play and left R-MA with just seven actual games last season. The Yellow Jackets are hoping to get at least nine — their regular-season schedule — and perhaps even beyond that should they advance to the state playoffs.

The Yellow Jackets lost much of a strong backfield to graduation, and must replace standout tailback Kevin Slaton, fullback Jonathan Moore and quarterback Garrett Cavanaugh.

R-MA coach Frank Sullivan said his team is moving toward a few new things on offense.

“We’re running a little bit of the double wing,” Sullivan said. “We’re sort of diversifying. We have a new backfield, so we’re tinkering with things. We may run a little more two-back set.”

Senior Faa Faa Eke-Spiff didn’t get a lot of carries last year, but made the most of them (10 rushes for 157 yards, 2 TDs). He, along with Timmy Idowu (12 rushes, 138 yards last year) have the inside track to gobble up most of those available carries. Michael Ndigwe and Austin Lee could also factor as ball carriers.

“We’re going to try to make them pretty interchangeable,” Sullivan said. “And we have another big piece in Paul Miller. He’s about 6-5, 220. He’s learning quarterback, he’s learning tight end, he plays in the slot, he plays a little fullback. He’s going to be sort of our jack-of-all-trades.”

Peter Blair, who completed 5 of 14 passes for 48 yards and a TD in relief action last year, will likely start the season as R-MA’s quarterback.

Easing the transition in the backfield will be an experienced offensive line.

“If we stay healthy, I think we’ll be eight or nine deep on the offensive line,” Sullivan said. “We have a ton of competition.”

All-Patriot Conference offensive guard Malik Cochran and lift tackle Louis Lindsey are the returning starters, but Thomas Brewer, Alex Jung, Junior Okonkwo, Alfred Sit, Ebot Makia and Scott Donahue are all viable options with varying levels of experience to help fill out the unit.

The Yellow Jackets also lost imposing wideout Carson Holder to graduation. Rising senior Tyler Vaughan, counted on to help fill that void, was slowed early in preseason camp after sustaining 25 stitches in his leg following a skateboarding accident in the summer. He and Jeremiah Hixson are two possible targets for Blair. Sit, Lee and Miller could all see time at tight end.

Change is in the works on defense, too. Sullivan said the Yellow Jackets are likely shifting from last year’s base 4-3 look to a 4-4 this season.

“We’re going to move more towards a 4-4 this year,” Sullivan said. “We have a lot of kids that are tweeners, sort of DB/linebackers. So we’re going to play with two outside linebackers, and obviously three deep with two cornerbacks and a free safety and just sort of fit pieces in that way.”

The defensive line should be a strength, with Cochran at defensive tackle and Ndigwe at defensive end reprising their starting roles.

“We’re hoping with more depth we can keep our defensive line fresh by giving them a break on both sides of the ball a little bit,” Sullivan said. “That’s going to be important.”

Faa Faa Eke-Spiff and Lee will likely start at the inside linebacker spots, with Idowu and Hixson ticketed for the outside linebacker positions.

Vaughan, possibly Idowu and newcomer Jeffrey Collins could end up filling out the starting secondary this season.

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or