With a much younger defense this fall, Woodland head coach Mathis Burnette is hoping his team can survive a tough early season schedule. The Wolverines open the season at Class AAAA Ashley Ridge and host defending Class AA Division II state champion Batesburg-Leesville the following week. Four of Woodland's first six games are on the road.
"We have to survive, hopefully experience some success along the way," says the fourth-year head coach. "We'll certainly learn a lot about our football team heading into region play. I like the schedule because it will test us and prepare us for a tough region."
Woodland is moving into Region 5-AA this fall, which includes perennial Lower State power Silver Bluff, the team that ended Woodland's season a year ago in the second round of the state playoffs.
Burnette has only five starters back from a very solid defense, but one of the starters is All-American candidate Michael Barnett, a 6-4, 255-pound defensive end and a Florida State verbal commitment.
"We know what we'll get from Michael, but there are a lot of new faces around him," said Burnette. "We have some athletic kids, which helps a lot, but they have to learn on the go. The fact that we have Michael out there as the leader certainly will help."
Other key returners defensively include linebackers Treyvon Shannon and Laron Carn. The entire secondary will be new, however.
Offensively, senior Drake Knight returns at quarterback after a solid junior campaign. He is one of eight returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. Barnett is back at left tackle for his fourth season as a starter. Senior center Quincy Carn also returns as the leader in the middle.
Brandon Smith will anchor the running game after topping 1,000 yards as a junior.
"We feel like we will be able to run the football," said Burnette. "We are bigger and stronger up front than we've ever been and Drake and Brandon are both capable runners. We have to stay healthy though. In AA football, one injury can mean two starters. If we can stay healthy, we're going to be a very competitive football team."