Preseason football practices consist of heat, humidity and hard hits. But Goose Creek quarterback Dantez Bennamon accepts the risks as he puts the heartbreak of the 2012 season behind him.
“I can’t wait for practice to begin,” said Bennamon, a two-sport star at the school. “Especially after what happened last year. I am ready to go.”
What happened last year made national headlines and ended the Gators’ bid for a second straight Division II-AAAA state championship. The Gators completed the regular season with an 11-0 record and seemed to be a lock for another state title after bouncing Conway in the first round.
But High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton ruled the team used an ineligible player during the season, resulting in games being forfeited and banishment from the playoffs. Goose Creek went to court, got an injunction and won a playoff game.
The High School League heard the case again, and the Executive Committee sided with Singleton. The Gators were on the sideline for good.
“It was the most frustrating thing to ever happen to me as a coach,” Goose Creek’s Chuck Reedy said. “It was so unjust to the kids. To penalize a team for something that had no bearing on a game is simply frustrating and unjust.”
Reedy says his team went 13-0 and didn’t lose a game on the field. But he said it’s time to put the past behind and focus on the future with practice set to begin on Friday.
“We won’t talk about last year or discuss it,” said the coach, who in 12 years raised the football program from the dead to arguably the best in the state. “We better focus this year on finding a way to win. This team must establish its own credibility and maintain it.”
The Gators, who have won 26 straight games on the field, suffered some heavy graduation losses. Defensive end Gerald Turner is now a South Carolina Gamecock, wide receiver/running back Tramel Terry is a Georgia Bulldog and defensive lineman Michael Meyers is an East Carolina Pirate.
“We have to prove that we can play,” said defensive back Omar McRae, who had 11 interceptions last season, two for touchdowns. “Most people think we’re going to lose some games because of the players we lost. But we just have to focus and put our minds on the game at hand, and we’ll be OK. We will try to get back to the state championship.”
The Gators still have talent. Running back Caleb Kinlaw led the team with 1,006 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns to push his career totals to 3,021 yards and 31 scores. He recently committed to Georgia Tech.
Tight end Kalan Ritchie is a big target and big-time recruit. He committed to USC after averaging 13.2 yards per reception as a junior.
And then there’s Bennamon, who was all-state in basketball and football. He completed 61 percent of his passes last fall for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“Dantez Bennamon is the most talented quarterback I’ve had in the 12 years I’ve been here,” Reedy said. “He’s a great, great leader and very smart. You look for that in your quarterback.”
Bennamon says he doesn’t feel any extra pressure because of the coach’s words or the community’s expectations.
“At Goose Creek, that’s what the players come to expect,” he said. “You play to win a state championship. Anything less is a disappointment.”
If the Gators are to contend for a state title, younger players must step up. You don’t lose a player like Terry, the state’s Mr. Football award winner, and not feel the void.
But the Gators might have a player who can be the X-factor. He is Deandre Daniels, a player who makes the move from defense to wide receiver in time for his junior year.
Daniels battled injuries last fall, but was a flash on the track. He finished second in the state in the 400-meter dash in May with a time of 48.04. Reedy said Daniels ran a 47.6 over the summer and broke the 22-second barrier in the 200-meter dash.
“He’s got speed,” Reedy said. “He’s probably faster than Tramel. He’s a great athlete who is going to open some eyes.”
If that happens, the Gators could close in on a second state title in three years.