Warhorses expect to add pieces to the puzzle

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Warhorse head coach Clint McElrath addresses his team at practice, as they prepare for their 2019-20 season opener, Nov. 21.

As the Owen Warhorse basketball team took the court for their final practice before opening the season on the road against Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, Nov. 21, the football team’s second round playoff game cast a long shadow over the upcoming campaign. 

“We have a few players who will be out there against Mountain Heritage,” said third-year Warhorse head coach Clint McElrath. “Those are some of the guys I believe will be difference-makers on our team this year.”

While players like Fred Graves, Saevion Gibbs and Dequan Boyce had yet to step foot on the court as they took the field, Nov. 22, for their gridiron rematch against the Cougars, McElrath was already optimistic about the basketball season ahead.

“Right now I’ve tried to put these guys who are here now in a position to win the opener, so I’ve changed a lot of my philosophies to make us successful for that game,” he said as his team prepared to take on the Mooresboro school. “I’m hoping they’ll learn everything and have it down so it will make the transition easier when the football players come on.”

The football team’s success has presented challenges for McElrath and his staff, which features his father Dean, Nathan Burkett, Pete Ledford, Brian Bartlett and Joey Valencia, but young players have emerged. 

Freshman Jayden Harper, senior Ian Propes and junior Logan Melton have shown potential as impact players for the Warhorses, according to the coach.

“Jayden will be our starting point guard,” McElrath said. “We already feed off of him. He’s a really good outside shooter, he can handle the ball. He’s already taken on some of the leadership responsibilities.”

Owen freshman Jayden Harper scans the floor while handling the ball in the Warhorses' final practice before their Nov. 21 opener against Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.

Preparing for the season without a core group of players has been a unique experience, Harper said, but the Warhorses have worked hard to be ready. 

“In the past few weeks I’ve worked on being more vocal and getting other players involved,” Harper said. “I feel like everything is going good so far, so it should be smooth when the football players come in.”

Propes is entering his third season on the varsity roster, McElrath said, while Melton has made a name for himself as a vocal and “very disciplined” player.

The team is equipped to win games as the football team continues its playoff run, according to the coach, but the early-season addition of athleticism should provide a spark.

“Fred Graves played for me last year and he has the potential to be a really big piece of what we do,” McElrath said. “Dequan Boyce played for McDowell last season and averaged about 4 points per game as a sophomore and from what I’ve seen he can be a huge piece for us.”

Graves averaged 5.5 points per game for the Warhorses in 2018-19 and pulled down nearly 6 rebounds per contest. He also averaged a block per game. He eclipsed the double-digit scoring mark three times as a junior, and recorded a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) against Western Highlands Conference opponent, Mitchell. 

McElrath is also “excited” about the addition of Gibbs, the 6-foot-3-inch, 325-pound offensive and defensive lineman for Owen’s football team. The senior received his first college football scholarship offer from Nichols College, Nov. 20. 

The Warhorses will rely on the leadership of junior Logan Melton and others as the open the 2019-20 season.

“Just seeing what he can do for us in the paint is something I look forward to,” McElrath said. “He’s going to be hard to move, just like he is on the football field. Plus, he brings a lot of athleticism to our roster.”

Other players from the football team are considering joining the basketball roster, but have yet to commit, he added.

The Warhorses were 5-20 last year, but the coach expects a significant improvement this season.

“This team is very coachable and they want to compete,” McElrath said. “As our chemistry improves throughout the season we’ll continue to get better. We have the potential to win quite a few games, and these guys should be a lot of fun to watch.”