Thomas Heyward Academy took on a daunting task when it committed to play in the Southeastern Commission of Independent Schools Kickoff Classic, giving the Rebels just two weeks of practice to prepare for Saturday’s season opener against Brookhaven (Miss.) Academy in Montgomery, Ala.
But the Rebels were in a good position to hit the ground running. They have 13 seniors and few holes to plug from last year’s SCISA 1A semifinal squad.
“Our senior class is a big, ol’ class, and we’ve all grown up and gotten bigger and stronger over the summer,” senior River Pender said. “We’re ready to go.”
The biggest question is at quarterback, where Jake Masters takes over for Logan Thomas. Masters has a talented group of receivers, including returners Zack Black and Bobby Payne and Ridgeland-Hardeeville transfer Trey Pusha.
“He’s got an arm on him,” Payne said. “He’s ready for anything that’s coming his way. He’s prepared.”
He also has the benefit of working alongside running back JR Patterson, who averaged more than 150 rushing yards per game and scored 17 touchdowns a year ago, as well as a big, experienced offensive line.
“We’ve got some big boys up there,” Masters said. “They’re all strong and move pretty well.”
The defense has to replace first-team All-Lowco linebacker Zach Bond but returns eight starters and has a chance to be better than it was a year ago, when the Rebels were dominant at times but faltered in the second half of their 42-34 semifinal loss at Pee Dee Academy.
Just how much stronger could the defense be? That could be the determining factor in whether the Rebels reach their goal.
“We want to get the ring this year,” Pender said. “We were close last year, but I think we’ve got the talent to do it this year.”
THOMAS HEYWARD REBELS FOOTBALL
Coach: Nic Shuford
Record at THA: 63-40 (10th season)
2017 record: 9-3, 4-0 region, lost in SCISA 1A semifinals
Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense
Offensive scheme: Spread
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Top returners: RB/LB River Pender, RB/CB JR Patterson, OL/DL Evan Brazil, LB Bryce Tillotson, DL Timber Hexamer
Notable losses: QB Logan Thomas, LB Zach Bond, OL Pablo Orozco
Breakout candidates: OL/DL Therion Cannon, OL/DL John Hewlett, RB/LB Bruzza Pusha
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jake Masters, QB: Teams are going to want to load the box to try to stop Patterson, and it’s up to Masters to keep them honest. If he can limit the mistakes and get the ball to a talented receiving corps on a regular basis, the Rebels’ offense will be tough to stop.
How well will the young defensive linemen hold up? For all their experience and senior leadership, the Rebels are young along the defensive line, of all places. They can play their seniors both ways, if necessary, but they would prefer to platoon and keep fresh bodies in the trenches.
REGION AND BEYOND
There’s every reason to believe the Rebels can repeat as region champs in a reconfigured SCISA Region 2-1A and challenge for the SCISA 1A state title.
8/11 — vs. Brookhaven Academy#
8/17 — at Hilton Head Christian
8/24 — vs. John Paul II
8/31 — at Colleton Prep*
9/7 — vs. Hilton Head Prep
9/14 — at Pee Dee Academy
9/21 — vs. Northwood Academy
9/28 — at Northside Christian*
10/5 — vs. Spartanburg Christian*
10/12 — vs. Bethesda Academy*
10/19 — at Dorchester Academy*
# – at Montgomery, Ala.
* – region opponent
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