on August 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Area football teams kick off practice

In the face of the long hours spent holed away watching film, the seemingly countless afternoons spent on the practice fields and the trying times that constitute four months of the year, not a single high school football coach would trade it away as the season officially gets under way today for four out of the five teams around the area.

Because for all those times, there is nothing than can beat football season, and in fact, all those same coaches would probably agree with Seneca head coach Ron Duncan, who puts the fall on a level all its own.

“It’s football season and Christmas season, that’s about it,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than football season, and we’re extremely excited to get started.”

With the exception of Walhalla, which will begin practice on Monday, the high school teams around the area will begin the long, at least effort-wise, road to the Weekend of Champions at Memorial Stadium in Clemson with the opening of fall practice today.

The expectations around the area are high for this season, with new head coaches beginning their tenures with high expectations at Seneca and West-Oak, Walhalla and Pendleton looking to figure into the fight for the Skyline AA championship, and Daniel looking to repeat as champions of Western AAA.

There are few teams around the state with such lofty expectations as Daniel, as the bulk of the team returns after capturing its first region crown since 2001, and advancing to the third round of the state playoffs.

With a host of all-region players returning, including Virginia Tech cornerback commitment Jerrodd Williams and DeAndre Hopkins, who nabbed a school-record 14 interceptions last season, the Lions are heavily favored to repeat as region champions.

Excitement around the program is so high in fact, Daniel head coach Randy Robinson said his team possibly set a record by having 60 players regularly attend weight sessions during the summer, as the team is ready to improve on an 11-2 record a year ago.

“We’re still trying to build something, because we’re not there yet,” he said. “Getting more guys to come to the workouts during the summer shows a little more commitment, and the more kids you have committed, the more success you have.”

Over in Oconee County, there was also an impressive turnout for the Lions’ rival in Seneca, as nearly 85 players were on hand for spring practice and weight sessions over the summer, which has led a new wave of enthusiasm surrounding the program with Duncan entering his first year at the helm.

“The excitement’s been unbelievable,” Duncan said. “Our kids feel that and feed off that, and I think it’s really done a lot to give us a boost in participation.”

And not far down the road, West-Oak is gearing up to join Seneca and Daniel in Western AAA for the upcoming season after advancing to the playoffs three out of the last four years as a member of Skyline AA under Lynn Fleming, who is now the head coach at South Florence High School.

New coach Jay Brannon already had his team gathered at the school on Thursday night, with players going through meetings with their position coaches, while also enjoying a pizza dinner to go along with a movie before getting to work this morning.

Brannon said 76 players have been in the weight room throughout the summer, which he is hoping translates to a smooth transition into Western AAA, and a seamless transition from a coaching standpoint.

“When you have a good summer, it makes the fall exciting,” he said. “Being the first year, we’re ready to go. I think our coaching staff has done a tremendous job, and it makes my job easy, especially in the first year.”

Brannon’s new rival school, Walhalla, is looking to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and the first appearance under head coach John Boggs, who said his team has depth along the offensive line it hasn’t had during his tenure, which could go a long way in earning a playoff berth.

It also doesn’t hurt that the line will be protecting 2007 Daily Journal/Daily Messenger Golden Corner Player of the Year Rob Middleton, who has his name stamped all over the Razorbacks’ record books.

“We’ve been knocking on the door for three years in a row it seems like,” he said. “We have to get a little bit of nastiness about us and be willing to get in there and mix it up with people. Even though we’re a spread offense, we want to be physical.”

Then at Pendleton, the Bulldogs are expected to have one of the stoutest defenses around the area, while the offense will look to replace playmakers Chris Lee and B.J. Blanding on offense.

Pendleton is expected to once again compete with Abbeville for the Skyline AA title, and with 95 players taking the field at 7 a.m. this morning, Bulldogs head coach Paul Sutherland is expecting another successful season in a heavily modified Cunningham Stadium.

“We’re extremely excited,” head coach Paul Sutherland said. “Our kids have put in a tremendous summer. You can usually get a good gauge based on that. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, so we’re very excited.”

The start of the regular season is only about three weeks away, as Walhalla will take to the field in Week 0 on Aug. 22 when it travels to Blacksburg. All four of the other local teams will open the regular season the following week.