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Myth Becomes Legend 2 – The 2018 East Forsyth State Champs – Part 1

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Welcome to part 1 of a 3 part series chronicling the 2018 East Forsyth football season, culminating in a exciting 4-A state title over Scotland County in December. Hear from players, coaches and staff in their own words as they recount the journey from preseason to final snap of the title game.

Redemption

Its December 2017. East Forsyth, in a bit of a down year, had entered the 4-A state playoffs with a 7-4 record after a mid season 3 game losing streak to rivals Page, West Forsyth and cross town rival Glenn. The Eagles would right the ship and go on a winning streak until running into Harding University, a team they had defeated in the playoffs a year earlier, 43-20, in 2016.

Harding remembered. The Eagles season would end with a 36-7 loss to the Rams in the NCHSAA 4-A Quarterfinals. Harding would go on to win the 2017 4-A State Championship. The loss to Harding, as well as the off-year during the regular season with losses to local rivals would serve as motivators for the Eagles program going into 2018.

Todd Willert – Head Coach – East Forsyth

The 2017 season was a great motivator for us going into the 2018 year. We finished 2017 strong but I think the players, coaches and myself realized that we didn’t work as hard as we needed to in the off-season. So in February when we started our Winter lift sessions you could see and feel the difference in the players and coaches. More focus, more determination, more attitude. We knew we had to get bigger, faster, stronger after playing against Harding.

Khalid Martin – Safety – Senior

Coming from that 9-5 season was very new to me, I’ve never lost that many games in my life…I’ve lost a total of 2 in a regular season at the most. We dropped 3 in a row and to top it off we lost to Glenn, which is totally unacceptable. But after that season, you could tell the atmosphere was different when I got cleared to play again we hit the weight room HARD. Once the coaches saw it was no hassle to get the team to workout and we started spring workouts, the team and the coaches knew that we could do something special in 2018.

Ahmani Marshall – Running Back – Junior

The end of the 2017 season, my sophomore year, was tough. I didn’t get to play due to injury but I felt like I was out there. We took a tough loss but that fueled us int he upcoming off season. We were working harder than ever.

Kaleb Lundy – Inside Linebacker – Senior

To be honest, me coming in as a transfer from Reagan High, a 9-5 season was good to me, especially being 3-8 two seasons in a row. You could tell the atmosphere was down when I first arrived, but as soon as we started spring workouts the team and the coaches knew that we could do something special.

Aaron Beal – Defensive Coordinator – East Forsyth

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Eagles Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

I remember the loss to Harding University almost more than I do some of the big wins in my career as a Football Coach. I was in my 3rd year as the DC at East Forsyth. I spent 7 years prior at Northwest Guilford. Once we got into the Harding game, it was about midway through the 2nd quarter when I just felt we weren’t on their level when it came to strength. I had never in my career at East felt bullied by another team. After that Harding game, I felt just like that. I remember looking at the stat line the next day and seeing their starting RB had racked up 328 plus yards on 28 carries. When you’re a DC and you lose like that it leaves a mark.

We went to work in January and every single person in the program had a different fire. You could feel a unity in the weight and speed programs that wasn’t there in the past. Don’t get me wrong, we always worked hard, but this team was determined as a group to make 2018 one for the record books.

Mizell Hall – Wide Receiver – Senior

The loss against Harding definity had an effect on the team. The players all showed another level of maturity in the weight room. And Coach said ‘the only way was to live by the weights…make the weight room your best friend’

Summer heat in K-Vegas

Another sweltering summer in Kernersville in July-August 2018 set the stage for the beginning of the 2018 campaign. The Eagles were returning a lot of players who played the previous season. They also had additions to the roster and looked to go further than 2017.

Khalid Martin

Hot? That’s an understatement…but no one ever complained, and I feel as if thats what made us so dominant. We were loaded with talent, and for us to be able to put it all together so quick is what really made us dangerous. Looking back on practice, you could see the ambition on every senior’s face that we knew this was our last year to put on those pads on Friday nights and we took advantage of it. The coaches were extremely hard on us, but it was tough love and they always made sure we were on task NO MATTER WHAT. I wouldn’t necessarily say the players ran the practice, but most of the upperclassmen, especially on defense, played a big role in the enthusiasm at practice.

Ty Lyles – Quarterback – Sophomore

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East Forsyth Sophomore QB Ty Lyles

Yes it was hot, the camps were productive and they helped us a lot….getting immune to the weather and fighting through adversity. The coaches are always hard on us, because they feel like you can’d do the little things they cant do the big things so we can call out who those people are we can’t do it and players like myself, Ahmani Marshall, Khalid Martin and Khalil Baker stepped up.

Mizell Hall

Summer workouts is what really did it for us this year I feel, and there’s a few others who would say the same. I wasnt worried about talent, I felt we had more than enough talent, I just wanted the team to be able to play as a whole. Our coaches believed in the ‘next man up’ rule, so I wouldnt call Coach Willert being hard on us, but if you couldnt do the job we had someone else who could so that kept players on their jobs. We had lots of leaders but we had one guy, Khalid Martin, he would do a lot of the speaking for the team…he’s been there all 4 years and he wanted this year to be that year.

Head Coach Todd Willert

The summer workouts were intense and once again as a Coach you could feel this team was different. The way they held each other accountable at workouts and in the hot sun of summer you knew if we stayed healthy we had a shot this year. The thing I remember most about summer workouts is almost everyday, everyone was on time and they enjoyed being around each other. Even during the hard work they laughed and had fun. Which in turn made it much more enjoyable as a coach.

The coaches worked so hard maintaining the level of high intensity but keeping it enjoyable. That is a very tough task as coaches. The leadership of this team was some of the best in my 26 years of coaching. Players like Khalil Baker, Khalid Martin, Nick Childs and Mizell Hall knew how to lead and they knew when to be grinding at workouts and when to have fun. Just a perfect balance.

Khalil Baker – Cornerback – Senior

Summer practices were competitive especially with all the college coaches coming in and out for recruiting. Also with so many people coming back, we definitely had a tight bond going into the season and I think that really helped us push through. Something that I remember from the practices are that all the older guys/starters took coaching from everyone and also coached each other throughout the entire year. The whole senior class stepped up as a whole on and off the football field because we knew we wanted to be different.

Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

As we went into Summer workouts I remember coming home and telling my wife we may not lose a game this year. That’s how special this team was! I had a level of confidence I hadn’t felt before. I was in year 4 as a DC and most of these Seniors had been in the program with me for 4 years now. They knew the system inside and out. Once we got to August though I remember those feelings of confidence changing to feelings of nervousness as a coach. It went from we may never lose a game feeling to “Don’t screw this up Beal”. I knew this team was special. I knew that if we just took it one week at a time as cliche as it sounds that we could stay healthy we would be a hard team to beat come November and December.

I also felt that the coaches didn’t have to get on this team about details we had to get on teams in the past. It was small details like showing up for on time, keeping the locker room clean etc. Those small details to me are what mattered most.

Who was the biggest rival?

Who did the Eagles consider your top rival or competition going into the 2018 season? And considering that Harding was yet another Charlotte/Mecklenburg county school that ended the Eagles season, was there a sense that maybe the Charlotte schools were on a different level than Triad schools?

Kaleb Lundy

West Forsyth is always a rivalry game, whether I was playing at Reagan or East. Growing up everyone looked at Charlotte as a ‘different breed’, but this year we were on a mission and nobody was going to stop us from conquering our goal, which was a state title.

Allen Plaster – Athletic Director – East Forsyth

As the AD I consider Glenn a big rival, just because of our distance from one another. I also think that over the years we have created a rivalry with West Forsyth. Even when we weren’t in the same league with each other and played in non-conference every year, I think we created a healthy rivalry.

You hear all the talk about how good Charlotte area schools are and that the
triad area teams can’t compete with them, but I believe we have just as good football in our area as they do. Myself and Coach Willert have reached out to schools in the Charlotte area each time we are looking to schedule games to try and play a non-conference games and things just haven’t worked out. I don’t think that was a sense when we played Harding. Harding was a very good team and on a special mission in 2017.

Khalid Martin

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East Forsyth Senior Safety Khalid Martin

West Forsyth is ALWAYS a rivalry game, every year I’ve been in school its been a dog fight. Everybody looked at Charlotte schools as a different breed, but this year we had a goal to gain our respect no matter who was in the way and nobody was going to stop us from conquering our ultimate goal.

Khalil Baker

Going into the season we were looking for revenge, that was one year that everybody got to talk about us so it was more of a redemption type of thing. Also with the year and the team we had I feel like we could have played with anybody.

Aaron Beal – Defensive Coordinator

Our Conference is a special conference. Everyone in Eagle Nation understands the importance of games against West Forsyth and Glenn but to me every week feels like a rivalry in the Central Piedmont Conference. Every team in the CPC is very well coached and every team has great players. I always tell our guys there are no off weeks when you play 4-A Football in the CPC and its just that.

I know the fans get really pumped for the West and Glenn games but if you come out to any of our games against those teams as well as Reagan, Reynolds, and Davie they have Playoff like atmospheres. I really think those tough conference games prepares you for those teams you will face in late November and December.

Ahmani Marshall

Our top rival is West Forsyth. And yes, they do sleep on Forsyth County when it comes to Mecklenburg County. Just more reasons for us to work harder.

Head Coach Todd Willert

I know most coaches say this but we truly took it week by week. Our first big change was Richmond Co. at the Jamboree at Wake Forest University. I think that night we proved to a lot of people how special this team could be. We also reassured ourselves that we were a special team. I remember being up in the Wake Forest baseball outfield doing our pre-game warm up/stretch thinking after tonight we will know for sure how good we really are. We went on to play and had a very good night. I tried to keep the excitement in after the scrimmage when I was talking to the team.

I remember having the Assistant Coaches load up the players on the bus and get them back to East. I told them I would be back to the school in a bit. I needed some alone time. I remember sitting on the visitors side of the stadium around the 25 yard line about 10 rows up watching West Forsyth scrimmage Weddington just trying to collect my thoughts. I knew then in my mind this could be our year when we finally reach the top of the mountain. It might have been the last time during to season I exhaled. I knew it was time to GRIND!!!

Week One – Raleigh Sanderson

The Eagles kicked off the 2018 season with a 42-24 win over Raleigh Sanderson. The Eagles…were 1-0.

Khalil Baker

The Sanderson game showed us how we can operate if everything is clicking from offense to defense and special teams. I was happy when Ajani Jones caught the first pick of the season cause we always got on him about not having picks last season and he ended up leading the team with 5.

Mizell Hall

I can’t remember exactly what play but on the first bomb pass to me I caught a one handed catch on the left side of our field on the 20 yard line from the end zone. I thought I scored after I rolled into the endzone but no touchdown.

Jalen Shelf

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Senior Offensive Lineman Jalen Shelf celebrates with Junior RB Ronald Jackson during a game in the 2018 regular season

Going into the 2018 season, I felt like nobody could take us….just take it week by week.

The main thing I can remember from the Sanderson game was me and Ronald Jackson starting the lift celebration after touchdowns.

Khalid Martin

First game we had some errors just because it was early and we didn’t have everything pieced together and we were trying things as the weren’t scared to fail at. The game was hot and slow to start off, but we pulled it together before halftime.

Head Coach Todd Willert

The best thing was we got to open up at home at the NEST!!! Nothing like playing at home. It was our first game with our Sophomore QB Ty Lyles so we had a lot of questions on offense. However, after that night we had a lot of questions answered about the offense.

Athletic Director Allen Plaster

I think the win over Sanderson was good to get a win under the guys belt, and finally get the loss to Harding behind them. I knew the year before when we went to Sanderson they had a couple guys that had gone on to NC State, so I didn’t know exactly what type of team they would have in 2018 and I didn’t know what we would have either, especially with a new, young starting quarterback. I knew defense would be our strength allowing the offense to catch up.

Week 2 – Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor would be the next opponent for East Forsyth, resulting in a 35-14 win for the Eagles. The Eagles pounced early, scoring 21 unanswered points in the 1st quarter. The large platoon of running backs for East Forsyth rushed for 308 yards on 46 carries….6.6 yards per carry.

Ty Lyles

Mt Tabor was a good team. They had a couple of dogs but we came out hungry to come away with the will to win.

east forsyth
The 4 Horsemen of the East Forsyth backfield in 2018. From left to right, Robbin Smith, Chris Chaplin, Ahmani Marshall, Joseph Brown.

Khalil Baker

Mt Tabor game we came out swinging. Nick Childs returned the opening kickoff which set the tone for offense and on the next kickoff, Sincere Patino and I made a big hit. Overall, the game went kind of fast after shutting down their star player, Jaquan Albright.

Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

I remember the game against Tabor seeing the Eagle Defense that I thought we could be. I remember us starting fast and playing Physical. I felt an energy from our defense and team that I hadn’t felt since a few of those games in 2015. I remember walking across the field after the game and one of the coaches for Tabor telling me good job and he said this is the best East Forsyth team he had ever seen. I remember telling a couple reporters that Mt Tabor had a special team and someone sort of downplaying it. I told them by the end of the season Tabor would be one of the teams to beat and they were just that. When I saw them playing in the final 4 of the 3-A it just made me realize again just how big that win was.

Khalid Martin

Tabor was by far one of the best games we played this season. It wasn’t a blowout, but they made it a tough game . We showed how dominant we could be.

Head Coach Todd Willert

It was another great test for us after losing to them in 2017. We knew how athletic they were so once again he knew some questions would be answered on how good our defense really was going to be. Our defense played lights out and once again many questions were answered that night.

WEEK 3 – North Forsyth

Week 3 saw an offensive explosion as East Forsyth defeated North Forsyth 57-0. QB Ty Lyles went 10-12 passing for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns, the rushing attack added 189 yards on the ground and the defense pitched the first shutout of the season.

Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

When we played North Forsyth I remember our guys started telling me in practice how special our defense was. I also remembered myself for the 1st time that season telling our defense…if you’re so special why don’t you score? Great Defenses score points. I challenged them to score and we went out and got several takeaways and a defensive TD that game. From that week on I told our guys if you want to be special you will score TDs on Defense.

Khalil Baker

The week of practice for North Forsyth was more intense for the offense than the defense. The offense was installing new plays while the defense was just kind of going over old stuff since their offense didn’t run any spectacular plays.

Head Coach Todd Willert

Micah Crowell had a very good game and people started to learn more about him. I also remember seeing Mizell Hall return a punt for a touchdown and realized he was going to have a big year both on offense and on special teams. Our special teams turned out to be very special. Special Team Coach Yoder and Studevent worked extremely hard in the off-season to create a better 3rd Phase in our special teams. Over the season it showed to be a big difference in many games.

Mizell Hall

I think the offense was just getting really comfortable and after the North game, we wanted to put high numbers all year. I felt the offense and the defense had an outstanding performance.

Athletic Director Allen Plaster

Standing on the sidelines that night at North, things just seemed to be clicking. Every time North made a turnover, we capitalized on it, every time we needed to made big plays we did. I believe we had running clock the whole second half or at least most of it.

Week 4 – Carver

For the second week in a row, the Eagles would pitch a dominant shutout on the road, this time in East Winston vs Carver. East Forsyth had started off 4-0.

Jalen Shelf

People were starting to wake up and see that East Forsyth wasn’t playing this year. We stayed on WXII and on Twitter at that point.

Khalid Martin

We honestly weren’t focused on the media. The seniors made sure the younger guys didn’t get the big head because it’s easy to lose focus at any given point in a football game. We took it day by day and practice by practice to make sure we had what it took to win that Friday.

Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

The message that week was I don’t care who the opponent is, it was up to us to play a perfect game! I know that is impossible but I challenged out guys and they came out and try to do just that. I also felt I never had to try and manufacture fake energy with a speech or pre game hype. This team was always ready to play through 4 weeks. When we came out and played the way we did I just reminded the guys it was a long season and the opponents would get better each week and the games would get bigger each week. I had a feeling everyone in the Triad was starting to say we were the team to beat. I just remember telling our guys to ignore the noise and do what we do.

Khalil Baker

We were going into the game with the same mindset as we did with North. Then during warm ups, the players and coaches started talking junk to us so we knew we had to put it on them. Ajani Jones had another pick. Khalid Martin returned a punt for a TD. But it didn’t feel like the media was paying attention to us yet.

Athletic Director Allen Plaster

Another night where it seemed that everything coach called worked. The coaching staff had done a great job in preparing for the game and putting kids in positions to be successful. We were able to get the backups a lot of playing time and even got a couple young kids some varsity game
experience. The media coverage starting picking up a little, calls to me during the week increased about getting space in the press box on Friday nights, but not sure the media was ready to fully jump on the East bandwagon yet after 4 games.

Week 5 – Grimsley

Week 5 saw another dominant performance beating Grimsley 52-21. At this point of the season, the Eagles were averaging 37.8 points per game on offense and only allowing 11.8 points on defense. Halfway through the regular season, the Eagles were 5-0. Any other team could easily be guilty of ‘feeling themselves’ at this point, but the Eagles had vets that kept the team grounded and focused on the main goal.

Khalid Martin

Of course we were all satisfied with the outcomes we were having, but we also stayed very humble throughout the season. We knew what we had as a team and family, but we were steady grinding on and off the field to set that standard. Being on defense, we always had a saying, ‘Eagles 13’….I swear you would’ve gotten tired of hearing that saying, but it stood for always make sure the person with the ball feels like he is getting tackled by 13 people instead of 11.

Ty Lyles

At this point we were on top but we didn’t let it get to our heads. We were still humble about it. Myself, Khalil Baker, Khalid Martin and Ahmani Marshall keep the team grounded. Felt good to see improvement because we knew we would get a lot of positions to score. We came together because we could trust the people on the field would just do their jobs

Head Coach Todd Willert

The Grimsley game was very important in the fact we knew they were a very good team. We were coming off our bye week and we knew we had a stretch of a lot of BIG games in front of us. We didn’t want the players to be too over confident after the first 4 weeks, but the players just handled everything perfectly. Just like we taught them week by week business like attitude. Once again we played at the NEST and that helped coming off the bye.

Mizell Hall

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East Forsyth Senior WR Mizell Hall

The offense was putting up big numbers, I felt like everyone was just in their comfort zones. And the defense getting better and better every week, we didn’t just see it…we felt it also in practice. The defense made it tough for the offense every day in practice….that’s another reason why I feel we were a successful team. And on that point we felt we had about 90 percent of players had bought into the program we just needed the last 10 percent of the team to buy in at that point.

Defensive Coordinator Aaron Beal

I never not once felt this team was ever “Feeling themselves”. They did play with a certain swagger but on Monday in the film room it was business as usual. This team said they wanted to be champions and everyone was on the same page. We would celebrate Friday night and into Saturday morning….Then it was back to work Saturday night for us coaches on next weeks team.

Athletic Director Allen Plaster

 This is the week that I started thinking we had a really good team and if we could stay healthy and cut down on the number of dumb penalties we were getting that we might have a chance to make a really deep run in the
playoffs. The defense had been playing lights out all year, but they had been committing penalties that allowed teams to continue drives. I knew when they cleaned up the penalties, our kids would be flying all over the place making plays.

Khalil Baker

We weren’t really feeling ourselves because all of the coaches told us early that they expect this out of us. I feel like knowing the defense got better took some stress away from offense and special teams. As a defense we told them if y’all get us 14 points we can handle it. As an offense they told us if y’all give us the ball back we’re gonna score and that was just the mindset in every situation for every game.

Jalen Shelf

Week 5 I felt like we was on a roll…nobody in the state could mess with our offense or defense at that point. If one side was lacking, the other would step up.

NEXT…..

The 2018 East Forsyth Eagles face the toughest part of their regular season schedule with games vs rivals West Forsyth, Page and Glenn, and attempt to clinch another Central Piedmont Conference title…as well as home field advantage in the 4-A State Playoffs.

Read the Prologue…..HERE

Desmond Johnson is the owner/editor of sportscarolinamonthly.com. He is currently Creative Director for WSJS Sports Hub Triad and produces The Drive with Josh Graham, Mon-Fri 3-6pm. Johnson also hosts The Rundown with Desmond Johnson Saturday Mornings at 10am. He lives in Kernersville with his wife and two daughters. SportscarolinaMonthly.com is a Livewire Media Group LLC entity.

Follow Desmond on Twitter at @sportscarolina1

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