By Tom Hoggard | Outer Banks Voice on August 20, 2019
It was a sweltering August afternoon and the First Flight Athletic Complex was abuzz. Storm clouds gathered above as First Flight High football coach Jim Prince gathered his players in the fieldhouse.
I’m not totally sure which was more intense — the incoming thunderstorm or Coach Prince as he addressed his team. With the inclement weather likely to prevent the Nighthawks from taking the field to scrimmage, the team’s focus shifted that day towards its annual fundraising efforts. The players hung intently on every word as coach gave them the day’s instructions.
With a complete understanding of what the day’s goals were, and a plan now in place, the team broke from the meeting to get their fundraising underway. And when I talked with the coach, his intensity was on full display. His face lights up when discussing past teams and players, which is what happened when talking about last year’s squad that finished with a 5-7 overall record. When asked what his team needed to work on, Prince said: “We have to play better situational football. Last year, we lost in the last minute of the ballgame on two different occasions.”
If there is going to be improvement in “crunch-time” this year, it’s going to have to come with a first-year starter at the quarterback position as sophomore Porter Braddy and junior Cole Tomlin are both vying for time there. To complicate matters, both players participate in other sports. With Braddy having played baseball and Tomlin running track, neither was available to start learning the offense until June. With both young men proving to be a quick study, Prince has confidence that one of them will be up for the challenge. And regardless of who is under center on the opening drive, the coach expects to use both at the QB position throughout the season.
Both guys will also make an impact elsewhere with Tomlin playing some wide receiver and Braddy handling all the punting and kicking duties. Just how quickly they learn the QB position though, is what will determine how much of his offense that Coach Prince is allowed to install. Having coached at James Madison University, at multiple high schools in Virginia, and having spent time learning from former NFL coordinator Dan Henning, he’d love to incorporate something from every stop he’s made along the way of his coaching career.
When in full-bloom, you’ll see Prince-led offenses running options, traps, sweeps and more. With Braddy sporting a strong left throwing arm, he’d love to take a few shots downfield as well, perhaps to the aforementioned Tomlin. Sophomore Taylor Beasley and junior Callahan Lutz were both mentioned as guys who could end up catching some passes as well.
The passing game, of course, will only be as effective as the run-game will allow it to be. When I asked Prince if he had a feature back in mind for this season, he beamed as he began describing Jack Fitzgerald to me. Fitzgerald, who’s older brother Sam also played for First Flight, is the “linchpin” according to the coach.
Like many of the others mentioned, Fitzgerald, a sophomore, is still very young and just learning the offense. That youth is a theme that bodes well for the future of the program, yet leaves a little uncertainty heading into the upcoming season.
Speaking of linchpins, it’ll be pretty hard for Fitzgerald, or anyone for that matter, to run the football without an offensive line. Juniors Cam Liston and Noah Runkles will provide both experience and beef upfront. Both linemen have the ability and desire to play both ways, as will many Nighthawks, yet they’ll need to spend some time on the sidelines in order to keep from wearing down.
Enter sophomore defensive end Kendrick Pierce who appears poised to make an impact on the front of Coach Prince’s 4-2-5 defense, yet another remnant from his days at JMU. Sophomore linebacker Gage Tomlin, who stays in shape by wrestling when not football season, looks to anchor the middle of the defense. On the back end, First Flight will once again be relying on the friendly face of Cole Tomlin at free safety. Zion Nobles will man the strong safety spot and Taylor Beasley and Johmar Hernandez both seem to be locked in at the cornerback position.
As we finished our chat, Coach Prince walked me to the parking lot. Once outside, we learned that one of the young Nighthawks players had snuck out of the team’s “call-a-thon” fundraiser and was “just hanging around.” It was at this point that I got to see Prince’s trademark intensity once again.
That passion and intensity will be on display this Friday, Aug. 23, as First Flight opens the season against the Aces of Edenton Holmes.
Tom Hoggard is sports director/media consultant at East Carolina Radio. He hosts the Outer Banks Sports Report on 98.1 The Score Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m.