Bishop England, winner of back-to-back state championships in Division II-AA, faces an uphill battle in its quest for a third consecutive crown.
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First, the Bishops graduated 20 players from last year’s team, including their starting quarterback, tailback and fullback.
And this year, Bishop England will face a stiff challenge from within its own region. The Woodland Wolverines are loaded with talent and appear primed to battle for supremacy in Region 6-AA.
Here’s a look at how the region shapes up going into this week’s Sertoma Classic:
2012 RECORD: 9-3, 6-1
COACH: Mathis Burnette (3rd year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
KEY PLAYERS: RB Patrick Shepherd, RB Jari Smith, OL/DL Michael Barnett, OL Josh Mays, LB Daquan Bolden; LB Brandon Jamison, DL Makil Alston, DB Roderick Britt, DB.
NOTES: The Wolverines might have the most talent in the region. But the Wolverines must put all the pieces together in Burnette’s third year. The team lost most of its skill players from last year’s team that averaged a whopping 41 points per game. The Wolverines have five starting linemen who weigh at least 230 pounds, including Michael Barnett, one of the top juniors in the state.
“We’re not nearly as deep as we were last year,” Burnette said. “The main thing is to get the 11 best players on the field any way we can.”
2012 RECORD: 13-1, 7-0
COACH: John Cantey (6th year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 7 (3 offense, 4 defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: CB/RB Nick Shiver, DB Reed Fosberry, OL Hudson Little, OL Chandler Sambets, LB Harrison Boals, LB Lawton Fosberry.
NOTES: The Bishops graduated 20 players from last year’s state championship team, including running back DeAngelo Stephenson, fullback/defensive end Griffie Loy and quarterback Kevin Herbst, so the defense might have to carry the team early. Fosberry, Boals and Shiver head up a defense that has allowed only 266 points in the last 28 games. The Bishops, 26-2 the past two years, have a strong offensive line returning.
“We can’t rest on our laurels, we have to work hard,” coach John Cantey said. “Most of the players have bought into what we’re trying to accomplish.”
2012 RECORD: 4-7, 3-4
COACH: Blake Raley (2nd year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (6 offense, 3 defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Marquis Griffin, QB D.J. Myers, WR Kevin Williams, TE Shemar Taylor, OL Santonio Ford, DL Tyree Simmons, LB Victor Simmons, DB Gavin Bush.
NOTES: The team was in transition last year as the two Jasper County schools merged. This year, Raley has meshed the team well, and his 41-player squad should be better than a year ago. The team will run from a spread offense, and Griffin should be able to top last year’s numbers that included 542 yards and three TDs rushing.
The defense, which surrendered 371 points in 11 games, should be much improved.
2012 RECORD: 6-6, 5-2
COACH: Jim Schuman (3rd year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Raekwon Smalls, RB Yuneek Crittendon, OL Michael Reyes, TE/LB Isaiah Smalls, LB CB Rhaheem Cooper, FS Andrew Woodlay, LB Jason Green.
NOTES: Battery Creek showed great improvement in Schuman’s second year, going from 1-9 to 6-6. The team scored only 8 points per game in 2011, but averaged 29 last fall. The team lost 14 starters off that team to graduation and other players transferred.
“We have 45 on our roster and hope to get more players out for the JV team,” Schuman said. “The good news is we’re eager and hard-working.”
2012 RECORD: 1-9, 0-7.
COACH: Earl Brown Jr. (3rd year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 9 (5 offense, four defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C/DT Kendrick Williams, WR/CB Bruce Mitchell, QB-LB Darrell Harley.
NOTES: The Bulldogs went 7-5 in Brown’s first year and won a region championship. Last year, the team struggled after losing many key players. This year could be something in between for a team that scored only 14.6 points per game while allowing only 43.1.
“We have only one way to go, and that’s up,” coach Earl Brown Jr. said. “Last year wasn’t a rebuilding year; it was a getting-our-feet-wet year.”
2012 RECORD: 5-5, 3-4
COACH: Rick Burns (2nd year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 12, (6 offense, 6 defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jamie Cooper, L Rakwon Hines, L Travon Sanders, WR Louis Lawrence, WR Christian Westen, WR Omega Smalls, QB Kevin Duncan QB.
NOTES: Garrett Tech lost a boatload of skill players from last year’s team, and the strength could be its line. Hines is 6-3, 300 while Sanders is 6-2, 290. Both players have been committed to getting better. The defense needs to improve after giving up 30 points per game last year.
“We’re very young. We have to grow up and get some experience in a hurry,” Burns said.
2012 RECORD: 1-9, 1-7
COACH: Chris Reger (1st year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 20 (11 offense, nine defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Deandre Gilmore, WR/RB Antonio Mack OT Keory Wright, OT Aaron Glover, LB C.J. Collins.
NOTES: Reger spent 2012 as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator after moving to North Charleston from New York. North Charleston has had a difficult time with stability since Jimmy Brown stepped down as head coach before the 2010 season. The Cougars have had three head coaches in four years, and won just five games in that span.
“They key is building relationships,” Reger said. “We have to have that bond. The response has been very positive.”
2012 RECORD: 6-5, 3-4
COACH: Bud Walpole (10th year)
RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB/DE/QB Logan Chui, RB/LB Nate Schlosser, OL/DL Mason Proctor. OL/LB Alex Lansink, FB/DL Nate Anderson, OL/DB Dillon Schatt, QB/DB Josh Isaacks.
NOTES: Academic Magnet had it first winning season in school history, but Walpole must replace eight seniors from the team, including running back Stuart Walters, arguably the best athlete — and football player — in the school’s history. The team was good on offense (332 points in ’12) and mediocre on defense (318 points). The team will strive to control the football and clock with a powerful running game.
“We have to work hard in a hurry to get ready for the season,” Walpole said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us this season, as usual.”