Can the Lions roar with sophomore Nelson at QB?

James Island Christian running back Jonathan Hickman was all-state in eight-man football last season. (Bill Read/Special to The Post and Courier)

In the world that is eight-man football, losing one key player can be devastating. At James Island Christian, second-year head coach Chad Wheeler is faced with replacing one of the best eight-man players in the state last season in quarterback Josh Black.

While he is well aware of the challenge ahead, Wheeler is optimistic that the Lions can be just as competitive as they were under Black during an 8-2 campaign last fall.

"This is a new year and I told this team they have to create their own identity," said Wheeler. "We know that we have a lot of work to do in order to be the program that we want to be. We have a good group of kids. They worked hard over the summer and we're in good shape."

Sophomore Zach Nelson will be asked to replace Black at quarterback but Nelson will not be asked to duplicate Black's numbers. The 5-7, 145-pounder has solid pieces around him.

"The biggest thing is Zach just needs to be himself," said Wheeler. "He is a point guard in basketball and I want him to be a point guard in this offense. He can distribute the ball to the weapons around him and be very effective. He has been in the program for a few years so he knows what to do. Being a triple option quarterback, he has to be comfortable in his own skin."

Senior Jonathan Hickman is a returning all-state selection, compiling 798 yards rushing and 715 yards receiving, with a combined 15 touchdowns last season.

Junior Daniel Ulmer caught 25 passes for 430 yards last season and sophomore Wyatt Baldwin rushed for 383 yards a season ago.

Junior tight end Corley Marlow will figure more into the passing game this season. He, along with junior Bailey Boyle and senior Andrew King, will anchor the offensive front. Boyle is the lone returning starter among the interior three.

Boyle and King also start on the defensive line, with senior Phillip Heidt providing solid depth. Marlow and Baldwin work at linebacker and combined for more than 100 tackles last season.

Ulmer had five picks and 80 tackles in the secondary a year ago while Hickman tallied nearly 100 tackles in the defensive backfield.