After a heartbreaking loss in a state championship classic, the Hilton Head Christian Academy Eagles will start a new journey Friday, one without their record breaking quarterback. And the journey is beginning in an unprecedented time.
With the danger of COVID-19 looming over the start of the campaign, the preparation for this season was very different. The “new normal” forced coaches to find new approaches to practice and keep their players safe, and it was no different for head coach Ron Peduzzi. It took lots of adjustments, but the Eagles found a way to get back on the practice field and start pushing towards their goal: a return to the SCISA 2A state championship game.
To get there, they’ll have to find themselves a new leader. Hayden Shinn, last season’s All-Lowco Offensive Player of the Year, gunned the ball down the field and put on an offensive clinic, throwing dime after dime to a deep and dangerous group of playmakers. Shinn accounted for 61 total touchdowns and brought the Eagle attack to unreachable heights, but now he’s off to Hampden-Sydney.
A pair of familiar stars will take his place: reliable receiver Jace Blackshear and phenom wideout, defender, and placekicker JP Peduzzi. Both have been hard-working during the limited offseason to transition into the new role. For now, Ron Peduzzi expects both to share the quarterback role, and most likely the results of the first few games could tell us where he ultimately goes down the stretch of the season. They both will have to adjust and find new ways to get the ball to their fellow talents, and many of those will be back, including senior Cameron Strickland, who should be primed for a very busy season after losing both Daniel Harrington and Floyd Hargrove.
The defensive side only got stronger as last year wore around, and those junkyard dogs shut down several excellent teams on their way to the state title game. This year should be more of the same, as the Eagles return nine of their starters. Leading the way is the lead dog himself in Jackson Lanier, the epitome of the team’s defensive effort. Only a junior, Lanier’s effort and grit transferred around the entire unit, and they all became dialed in down the stretch of the season. Senior Troy Chisolm is a perfect complement and an extremely hard worker who should produce next to the Bulldog. Kent Camp may be a smaller guy, but is a fantastic disruptor and run-stopper on the defensive line. This unit was relentless in 2019, and with nearly the entire corps returning, they should be able hold down the best offenses in the region.
This year may be a little different at the top, but the Eagles are coming in once again loaded with talent on all sides of the ball. If they can adjust their offense to fit a new system and continue to build on the defensive intensity they put on the table at the end of last season, there is no reason anyone will be able to knock them off the top pedestal of the region. If everything comes together quickly, they could very well run the table. But as we’ve seen last year, there will certainly be some adversity to overcome along the way. But with the resilient and relentless athletes on their sidelines, the Eagles can power past anyone.
— PRESENTING SPONSOR —
HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY EAGLES FOOTBALL
Coach: Ron Peduzzi
Record at HHCA: 23-11 (4th season)
2019 record: 11-2, 4-0 region, SCISA 2A runner-up
Top returners: JP Peduzzi, Jace Blackshear, Cameron Strickland, Jackson Lanier, Kent Camp, Christian Jackson, Liam Sirgo, Troy Chisolm
Notable losses: Hayden Shinn, Daniel Harrington, Floyd Hargrove
Breakout candidates: Jayden Void, Riley Shinn, Quinn Ryan, Blain McClure, Wells Sharpe, JP Wilder
PLAYERS TO WATCH
JP Peduzzi, QB/WR/DB/K/P: The go-to weapon of Hayden Shinn’s record-breaking offense of 2019 could find himself in a new role this season. He’ll be sent around to do many different things this year, from quarterbacking to knocking in a crucial field goal. But we’re sure they’ll still involve him in the passing game, too, especially coming off a 62-catch season and averaging nearly 100 receiving yards per game. On defense his hard work and hustle is relentless, and don’t be surprised to see a couple more clutch picks and fumble recoveries on that side of the ball.
Kent Camp, DT: There may not be any defensive lineman in the area that works as hard as Camp. Never the biggest guy, Camp still knows how to find his strength and will his way past blockers before finishing off the tackle. He is a warrior on the line and makes a tremendous impact slowing down the gears of the offense. Camp has succeeded on the biggest of stages, picking up an enormous 10 tackles in last year’s state championship game against a seemingly unbeatable Trinity-Byrnes attack.
What will the Eagles’ pass-happy offense look like with a pair of receivers turned quarterbacks?
We will certainly not see the high-flying aerial attack that was dominated last year by Hayden Shinn. Instead, we could see more of an option offense, focusing on the running abilities of both Blackshear and Peduzzi. But these two are unproven at the leadership position at quarterback. Can one of them take over and become a game manager while using the strength of his legs to keep the defense thinking on their feet? Ron Peduzzi will certainly adjust and fine-tune the offense to give them a chance to get the ball to their outstanding athletes, but how much could the dynamic of their offense fall off without the leadership, execution, and talent from losing Hayden Shinn along with playmakers Daniel Harrington and Floyd Hargrove?
REGION AND BEYOND
The Eagles are still the frontrunners and the team to beat once again in 2020, but there are certainly some trap games in the cards that could give them lots to think about. A daunting task awaits them going on the road to Orangeburg Prep. While they should be able to handle John Paul II, the defense cannot fall asleep against what should be an improved group. If things don’t go as smooth as last season, Hilton Head Prep could give the Eagles a run for their money. It’s a rivalry, after all, and even more than that, the Dolphins have got some experienced and explosive athletes of their own. It’s HHCA’s region to lose, but the competition could get a little stiffer.
8/28 — vs. Dorchester Academy
9/11 — at Northwood Academy *
9/18 — at Orangeburg Prep
9/25 — vs. Colleton Prep
10/2 — at Pinewood Prep
10/9 — at Bethesda Academy *
10/16 — vs. John Paul II *
10/23 — at Beaufort Academy *
10/30 — vs. Hilton Head Prep *
— SUPPORTING SPONSORS —
Written by Wes Kerr / Photo by Jim Killian Photography
Wes Kerr is a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and Davidson College. He has a passion for statistics and analytics.