First Baptist will kick off the high school football season a week earlier than most as it hosts Trinity-Byrnes Friday on James Island.
It’s the third time in the past four years that the Hurricanes, SCISA AAA state runners-up last season, will begin a week ahead of the typical starting date used by most teams in the state.
“We’re excited to get going,” First Baptist head coach Johnny Waters said. “We’ll be one of the only games going on that night. The kids are ready. This might be the deepest team we’ve ever had here. We’re really excited about this group.”
Waters has never fielded a team at First Baptist without the services of running back Michel Dukes, the school’s all-time leading rusher who’s already receiving high praise as a freshman at Clemson .
The sixth-year Hurricanes head coach still feels good about his running game, though, with John Ravenel and Davian Brown leading the backfield. Ravenel is a speedy junior who ran for 487 yards and four touchdowns, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry as Dukes’ backup last season. Brown is just an eighth-grader but has been dominating the state’s middle school all-star competition with eye-popping statistics the past couple of years.
“Our running game is not going anywhere,” Waters said. “Nothing’s going to change. We’ll still establish the run. John has played behind Mikey the past two years. Now it’s his time. He has electric speed. If he gets out in the open, he’s gone. Davian, this kid is the real deal. We wanted to bring him along slowly but he’s so good he’s not letting me.”
First Baptist will still run the ball, but expect the Hurricanes to be more balanced with a passing game led by Bishop England transfer Will Daniel. The 6-foot-2 junior quarterback began last season as the Bishops’ starter before suffering a season-ending injury (ironically, against First Baptist). Daniel won a state championship with the Bishops baseball team in the spring and trained this summer as part of the U.S. National football team.
Waters says Daniel could become the best passer he’s ever had at First Baptist. He’s the son of former Bishop England and Palmetto Christian head coach Jim Daniel, who will be joining the Hurricanes staff as quarterbacks coach this season. Jim Daniel and Waters have coached together 16 years between stops at Bishop England, Palmetto Christian and First Baptist, including the Hurricanes’ first state title run in 2016.
Daniel has several seasoned weapons at receiver. Senior Sincere Brown, a 6-foot-5 App State commit, leads the group. Seniors McKay Wilson, Lucas Snow, Philip Simmons transfer Omaro Asby and junior Sevaughn Washington are all athletic threats as well.
“They were putting nine the box against us last year. That won’t happen this year,” Waters said. “Will gives us something extra. He can make every pass. We’re talented and deep at receiver. As good as we’ve been offensively, I think there’s more we can do now.”
Senior Ross Greenhill returns to captain a Hurricanes defense that allowed just 7.5 points per game during the regular season last year. The middle linebacker is versatile enough and strong enough at 220 pounds to also move up to the defensive line. He posted 92 tackles last season with two interceptions.
Devin Ray anchors the middle of the Hurricanes frontline. The 250-pound senior nose tackle is quicker and stronger this season. The Hurricanes added a pair of former public school defensive ends in junior Jamar Blandin from West Ashley and Ethan Guest from St. John’s. Junior defensive tackle Amari Jenkins joined First Baptist after Garrett’s football program folded this offseason.
“We’ve usually had the skill guys but we feel really good up front now too,” Waters said. “Our offense and defensive lines are as strong as they’ve ever been, which makes us just so much better everywhere around them.”
First Baptist is 2-0 against Trinity-Byrnes under Waters, beating the Titans in the 2016 state semifinals and the 2017 state championship game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Bishop England is hosting Porter-Gaud in a scrimmage Friday night at Jack Cantey Stadium on Daniel Island. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Proceeds will benefit Water Missions International.