There’s a level of excitement in Mark Clifford’s voice that has been missing for a while when he talks about his new team. Football is fun again for the veteran coach.
It’s not that he didn’t enjoy his 14-year run at Beaufort High School, where he turned a foundering program into a perennial contender before stepping down after last season. It’s just that things had gotten stale, and the old coach has been rejuvenated by a change of scenery and a change of pace.
Clifford is about to embark on his first season at Beaufort Academy, where the Eagles play 8-man football, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve moving from the traditional 11-man game, the change suits Clifford’s old-school style.
“Everybody blocks and everybody tackles,” Clifford says. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s like a camp every day.”
Clifford has coaxed out a roster of 18 players — a good size for such a small school — and he has a close-knit group.
“The team is so small that it’s hard to have a bad apple,” Clifford said. “They’ve got to fall in. They have, and I’ve got some good leadership, too.”
He certainly has some talent on offense with quarterback Dawson Coleman and running back De’Shaun Epps returning after leading the Eagles to the first playoff win in program history a year ago. The duo fits in nicely to what Clifford calls his “old-timey split-back offense,” a staple of his tenure at Beaufort High.
He also brought over some of his assistant coaches, including Gerald Legree and David Fess. One big change, though, is the size on the offensive linemen.
“I probably ordered way too many large jerseys,” Clifford said with a laugh. “We might have some guys flapping in the wind Friday night.”
BEAUFORT ACADEMY EAGLES FOOTBALL
Coach: Mark Clifford
Record at BA: 0-0 (1st season)
2017 record: 5-6, 2-2 region, lost in second round of SCISA 8-Man playoffs
Returning starters: 5
Offensive scheme: Split Back
Defensive scheme: 4-2
Top returners: LB/FB Edward McCormick, OL/DL Daniel Richards, QB Dawson Coleman, WR/DB Will Tumlin, RB De’Shaun Epps
Notable losses: RB/LB Jaxon Spratling, RB/LB Max Emerson, DL Trey Dean
Breakout candidates: RB/LB Jasean Lawson, TE/DL Elijah Fess
PLAYER TO WATCH
De’Shaun Epps, RB: Epps burst onto the scene last season, rushing for 1,979 yards and 21 touchdowns. As long as he’s healthy — he’s a bit banged-up going into the season — the Eagles have a chance to win a lot of games.
Can the defense make more stops? The Eagles have enough weapons on offense to be dangerous, but the defense will have to be better than last year’s 39.3 points allowed per game for them to take the next step and put together a winning season.
REGION AND BEYOND
It’s anyone’s guess which teams will contend from year to year in 8-man, where graduating two or three players can make a huge difference. The Eagles have a good bit of talent back, and with an experienced coach like Clifford to get the most out of them, they could quickly develop into a contender.
8/24 vs. Clarendon Hall
8/31 at Laurens Academy
9/7 vs. Richard Winn
9/14 vs. Holly Hill*
9/21 at Faith/Ridge Christian
9/28 vs. St. John’s Christian*
10/5 at Andrew Jackson*
10/12 at Cathedral Academy*
10/19 vs. Palmetto Christian*
10/26 at Patrick Henry*
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