When you send off a senior class that was loaded with talent — including a trio who are playing at the next level — there are going to be some growing pains, especially at a Class 1A school. But longtime coach Jerry Hatcher just keeps developing players at Whale Branch Early College High School, and he’s counting on the pipeline to keep pumping in 2020.
The Warriors return plenty of experienced leaders, including quarterback Jaylen Reeves — also the point guard on the Class 2A runner-up basketball team — and two dynamic backs in Jadon Grant and Joseph Hicks to run behind an offensive line anchored by senior Aaron Rhode and junior Xavier Chaplin, as well as a defensive menace in end Jaylen Roberts. That’s a solid core to build around, and Hatcher has high hopes for some of the players stepping up from supporting roles to fill the leadership void left by the strong graduating class.
Whale Branch has some big shoes to fill on defense, but with Roberts up front, Hicks anchored the linebackers, and linebacker Da’Anta Parker poised for a breakout year, the Warriors hope to be sound on that side of the ball, as well.
The move to Class 1A gets Whale Branch out of a brutal region that included two perennial top-five teams, and the Warriors expect to be right in the hunt for one of two playoffs spots with hopes of capturing the region crown.
WHALE BRANCH WARRIORS FOOTBALL
Coach: Jerry Hatcher
Record at WBECHS: 52-35 (9th season)
2019 record: 7-4 overall, 2-3 region, 2nd round of Class 2A playoffs
Top returners: C Aaron Rhode, DE Jaylen Roberts, QB Jaylen Reeves, RB Jadon Grant, K Henry Tome, RB/LB Joseph Hicks, WR Amar Jenkins
Notable losses: RB/LB De’Arius Hazel, LB JacQuez Frazier, DE Jaheim Fripp, DB Jalen Jenkins, OL Trey Mitchell, WR Keith Bing
Breakout candidates: LB Da’Ante Parker, OL Xavier Chaplin
PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Joseph Hicks, RB/LB: Hicks is the next in a long line of two-way players for the Warriors, following in the footsteps of De’Arius Hazel as the man called upon to anchor the linebacking corps and handle the load running the ball. Hicks will provide the speed component in the backfield to complement quarterback Jaylen Reeves and powerhouse back Jadon Grant, and his play at outside linebacker will be key to the defense’s success.
• Aaron Rhode, OL: At 6-2 and 290 pounds, Rhode is the anchor of an offensive line that isn’t short on size and isn’t afraid to be physical. Left tackle Xavier Chaplin (6-5, 310) is another hulking presence on the line, so look for the Warriors to run to his side of the ball with Reeves and Hicks and pound it up the middle behind Rhode.
Can the young Warriors grow up fast?
With a big senior class graduation, Whale Branch has just eight seniors and six juniors on the roster, so the Warriors will be counting on a number of underclassmen to step up. The learning curve will be steep, going right into region play, but if the young contributors can grow up quickly, the Warriors should contend for a region title.
REGION AND BEYOND
It’s a whole new world for the Warriors in Class 1A, and they have little familiarity with most of their new region rivals. Baptist Hill seems like the team to beat going into the season, but if they can get past a tough St. John’s team in Week 1 and win at Military Magnet in Week 2, the Oct. 9 showdown in Hollywood could be the de facto region title game. Regardless of where the Warriors finish in the region, if they make the playoffs they will be a tough out, as usual.
9/25 — vs. St. John’s*
10/2 — at Military Magnet*
10/9 — at Baptist Hill*
10/16 — at Cross*
10/23 — vs. Charleston Math & Science*
10/30 — vs. Battery Creek
11/6 — vs. Estill