Chris Shimakonis moves through the Eagles practice fields with a smile across his face.
PALMETTO CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
2013: 7-4 overall, 2-2 in SCISA 2-AA
Coach: Chris Shimakonis (1st season)
Returning starters: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)
Players to watch: WR/DB Ben German, WR/DB Chase Shimakonis, RB/LB Jake Iriart
The first-year head coach and his team are venturing into the unknown together this season. A new era of Eagles football has begun at the Mount Pleasant school, and so far Shimakonis likes what he sees.
It's still Eagles football.
"We're going to keep toting the baton," Shimakonis said. "We've tried to keep things normal for everybody. There's a good foundation of leadership to follow. The transition has been much easier because everyone is so familiar with what we're doing here."
This season will be the Eagles' first without head coach Jim Daniel, who helped start the football program in 2008. Gone are SCISA Player of the Year J.T. Waters (now at Newberry), 1,000-yard rusher Ryan Roe and offensive coordinator Johnny Waters.
But Shimakonis is confident in his returning veterans, and optimistic about his underclassmen prospects. He's been able to rely on a coaching staff that's added former Division III quarterback Sean Keiper as offensive coordinator, former Charleston Southern safety Chris Kuzdale as defensive coordinator and former Coastal Carolina lineman Matt Manning as line and strength coach.
"We're all working together," he said. "Taking our strengths, offsetting any weaknesses and playing this season one game at a time. That's kind of what we've always tried to do. We've been really blessed by who's joined us and the response of everybody surrounding our program."
The Eagles are sticking to their spread offense that averaged 540 yards and 48 points per game last season. Cale Lewis, a 6-foot-2 freshman and grandson of former York head coach Jerry Lewis, is expected to start at quarterback.
Palmetto Christian returns seniors Ben German and Chase Shimakonis at receiver and defensive back. Chase Shimakonis was a SCISA all-state selection last season with 40 catches for 481 yards and five touchdowns, while German added 22 catches for 463 yards and two scores. Senior Jake Iriart has moved from slot receiver to running back and will double at linebacker.
"These guys know this offense and this defense," Coach Shimakonis said. "We want to be multiple, not predictable. Cale is a gamer. We're really excited about what the future holds for him. Chase is reliable, someone we can lean on in tough situations, Jake is tough and durable and Ben is an electric player we're looking to break games open on Friday nights."
Palmetto Christian added it's first on-campus weight room this summer. Shimakonis says the new facility has been a rallying tool for his team to build camaraderie as they prepare for the season together.
"In the six years I've been here, I don't think we've had a team, class-to-class, as close as this one," he said. "Their willingness to learn, to pick each other up and keep going, it's what you want to see."
The Eagles open the season Aug. 29 at Porter-Gaud. Taking over a team that's coming off of back-to-back seven-win seasons, Shimakonis isn't looking to reconstruct. He's happy with the team's identity. The identity that's become Eagles football.
"We want to battle," Shimakonis said. "Our seniors have said 'Put it on our backs. We'll take it.' We love to compete and we're going to continue to battle and compete week after week."