In 2022, Chatham football embarks on its first season under head coach Joe Fielder.
The Cavaliers finished an overall 4-6 last season with a 2-4 mark in Dogwood District play.
Here are five things you need to know about the ‘Cavs heading into the new season.
Whether a disappointing 2021 finish, a plethora of coaching changes, a global pandemic or playing three-to-four games a week because of said pandemic, Chatham has faced its share of adversity over the past four years.
According to first-year head coach Joe Fielder, it’s made the Cavaliers one of the most battle-tested squads in the region.
“These guys and this senior class have dealt with the most adversity that probably anybody in our region or district has had to deal with,” Fielder said. “I know everybody dealt with COVID, but they dealt with COVID, coaching changes, a shortened spring season, playing games on nearly every day, so this is a tough senior class, and they get it. They work really hard and don’t make excuses. The one thing I can say with this group coming in is we haven’t had to worry about things from a mental toughness aspect, and it’s been refreshing.”
Wide receiver Kendell Sanders, running back Dermont Kyle, utility guy Vic Harris, defensive end Kenneth Evans, cornerback Colin Lester, utility player Ladarius Wilson, Canaan Sloan, linebacker Tyler Hoffman, Andre Meyers, Robert Riley and Matthew Stone comprise the ‘Cavs’ senior class.
Chatham will have a new shot caller under center this year in the arm and face of junior quarterback Zander Cornell. Cornell is a true athlete as he starred for the Cavaliers at tight end and safety last season while also having a breakout season for the ‘Cavs’ baseball team.
While Cornell might be new to the position and naturally still has a few kinks to work out, Fielder has been impressed with his quarterback’s decision-making and athleticism.
“He’s a multi-sport athlete who came in ready to work, ready to learn,” Fielder said. “He’s got to work on a few things like not rushing throws and letting plays develop. He’s doing a great job working on the fundamental stuff. He gets better every day, but the most impressive thing about him right now is his decision making. He makes great decisions for someone with pretty much no experience at quarterback since middle school. He’s got great arm strength, can move a little bit, he has all the features you’d want in a tough high school quarterback.”
Pair of New Coaches
Fielder won’t be the only new coach on board this year as he was able to hire former Averett University football standouts Kirkland Brown and Delquan Bigelow to work with the offense this season. Brown will work mostly with the quarterbacks while Bigelow will oversee the Cavaliers’ running game.
According to Fielder, the combination of their collegiate experience and youth will make them invaluable members of the coaching staff.
“They represent what I wanted,” Fielder said. “A younger staff, but an experienced staff. That’s not to take away from the older coaches. I need the older coaches to help me fix my mistakes and serve as a mentor to me and the kids and help us learn, but I like having KB and Biggie’s youth. It helps them relate to the kids.”
Chatham had its biggest offensive and defensive lines in recent memory last season and expect to see much of the same this year as the Cavaliers return several key pieces of both the offensive and defensive lines.
The ‘Cavs will look to seniors Andrew Myers and Ethan Riley along with junior Aidan Hodnett and sophomore Jack Reece to anchor both the offensive and defensive lines this season.
Chatham will also look to senior Tyler Hoffman to anchor the linebacker position. Hoffman finished third in Class 2 in tackles last season with 143 while recording four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.
“They’ve got experience. They understand we’re putting in new systems on both sides of the ball, but they’ve bought in and have developed very well in understanding them. They want to be successful. They want to be great. They understand we’re coaches who have seen success, know what it looks like, and they’re trusting us with what we want them to do.”
On the offensive end, seniors Kendell Sanders and Dermont Kyle will look to anchor the Cavaliers’ passing and run games.
According to Fielder, the duo are using their game intelligence to help the rest of the offense adapt to the new system.
“It’s going to be a completely different system, but those guys are good enough and smart enough that I feel like they can fit into pretty much any system you throw at them,” Fielder said. “They study what we’re doing, they’ve bought into it and practice hard. Their improvement has been phenomenal. And it doesn’t hurt they’ve already been successful. They have confidence, and confidence can go a long way.”
No Days Off, the Message
In years past, the Dogwood District has been dominated by Appomattox County, Dan River, and Gretna, but the scales have evened out a bit this year with not only Chatham, but Altavista, Nelson County, and William Campbell fielding improved teams as well.
While striving to show up and be determined and driven each Friday, Fielder said the even competition will lead the ‘Cavs to being extra vigilant each game.
“The whole district itself is pretty balanced,” Fielder said. “There’s not a Friday, not you can take off and take it easy. We don’t aspire to that, anyway. We’re trying to play every game to the best of our ability and realize you can’t have bad games in the district.”
Fielder concluded with a message to the Chatham football community.
“This is a tough senior class. They get it and want to be great,” Fielder said. “They deserve a good amount of support. I think we’re going to finally have a normal season. They’ll have a normal year of high school. I think they’ll be able to go out and compete in the district each game.”