In this 2020 high school football season, the toughest opponent might just be the one you can’t see. After the Beaufort High Eagles had their region title defense delayed due to COVID-19 exposure, second-year coach Bryce Lybrand now knows that his Eagles must display toughness on the field and vigilance off it to find success in the 2020 season.
Last year, we saw the Eagles rise from the ashes, soaring to a region championship after losing their first five games. They dealt with adversity brilliantly after losing starting quarterback Tyler Haley. After it seemed like all was lost, they rode utility man Daniel Phares and star running back James Dagin along with a growing defensive front to take over Region 7-4A. Now, some new challengers enter the fray to try to knock off Beaufort’s crown, including powerhouse and likely favorite May River. But we know a coach’s second year is always a big one, and Lybrand has the talent on the field and the coaching ability to run it back and claim another title.
On offense, the Eagles return Haley, but will have to find a replacement for their workhorse running back Dagin, who was the catalyst in their unlikely run last October. That could end up being Amariee Morris this year, and Kacy Fields should get some touches as well. But don’t forget about Daniel Phares, who will be returning for his senior year and should certainly be given some work running, catching, and maybe even throwing the football. Terrence Wilson and Kayle Vasquez are back on an offensive line that led the way for a phenomenal run game in 2019. Senior Rhogue Wallace at 6-foot, 182 pounds, will be counted on at the tight end role. This has the potential to be a scary offense, and despite a few key losses, they will be a fun, multidimensional group to watch this year.
The defensive unit has the potential to be even more impressive. The overwhelming strength of the Eagle unit is the defensive line. The group is headlined by Eamon Smalls, just a sophomore but already a rising star in the Lowcountry and quite possibly the best at his position in the area. He is supported by three other stud linemen in 200-pound senior Theo Washington, fellow senior Jeremiah Simmons, and defensive end Alvin Wilson. When this unit turns it on, it can be a nightmare for the opposing blockers and quarterbacks to find a rhythm. This group alone has the ability to catapult the Eagles into a lethal defense. Senior linebacker William Winburn will be a leader this year, and solid leadership at his position always elevates the entire group around him. All-LowCo honorable mention Daryl DePass had a strong freshman year at corner, and will look to build upon 2019 along with veteran safety Dee Mitchell, who has been a reliable piece in the secondary.
There’s no doubt that the Eagles will be in contention to defend and win the region crown once again in 2020, but their success this year will be determined by how quickly the group can become dialed in. After a trip to the playoffs last year, Bryce Lybrand and company will surely have higher expectations. With a skillful offense combined with a frightening defensive front, oh yeah, and a new awesome turf field, the Eagles have the potential to make this fall a memorable one in Beaufort.
BEAUFORT HIGH SCHOOL EAGLES FOOTBALL
Coach: Bryce Lybrand
Record at BHS: 4-6 (2nd season)
2019 record: 4-6, 3-0 region, (Lost 2nd round)
Top returners: LB William Winburn, DL Jeremiah Simmons, DL Eamon Smalls, DL Theo Washington, DB Daryl Depass, DB Dee Mitchell, QB Tyler Haley, OL Terrence Wilson, OL Kayle Vasquez, TE Rhogue Wallace, LB/WR/QB Daniel Phares
Notable losses: LB Kaedin Grissom, TE Stefan Wechsler, OL Toby Strawderman, OL Henry Manley, OL Caleb Hagood, RB James Dagin, DB Christian Londono, DB Kendrick Williams, DB Kenneth Williams, WR Matthew Haley
Breakout candidates: RB Jaylin Houseal, RB Amariee Morris, WR/RB/FS Kacy Fields, DL Alvin Wilson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Eamon Smalls, DT: After meeting the ironically-named Smalls when he was a young eighth-grader, we knew he would be a special football player one day. That day is now. Just a sophomore, Smalls is primed for a fantastic 2020 season. At 6-4 and over 300 pounds, he already has the frame that college scouts are looking for, and they’ve taken notice. Smalls received his first D1 offer this summer, and it was a big one. He got the call from Will Muschamp at South Carolina, an incredible honor for any high school football player, but even more impressive for just a rising sophomore. His mammoth size and frame is a matchup nightmare for any lineman crossing his path, and his tremendous work ethic will make him even better heading into 2020. He models his game after Aaron Donald, the Rams’ standout defensive tackle, and he’s following in the footsteps of former Hilton Head High and now Seattle Seahawk Poona Ford. We’re expecting Smalls and that entire Beaufort D-line to be a menace for the region’s offensive coordinators, and could very well play into putting the Beaufort Eagles over the top in 7-4A.
Daniel Phares, WR/QB/LB: When Tyler Haley went down midway through the 2019 season, it looked like Beaufort just lost their last hope of turning the season around. But then Phares came in and captained a new-look offense all the way to a region title. In just half a season, Phares threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns. On top of all of this, he rushed for over 500 yards and finished as the team’s leading receiver. Now, with Haley returning as the starting quarterback, Phares will play a number of roles on both sides of the football. Bryce Lybrand has him listed as a wide receiver, linebacker, and yes, quarterback. We’d expect to see him out wide, but also line up as a back, and maybe even throw some when the defense isn’t expecting it. He’s a heck of a weapon to have on the offensive side, and the Eagle attack will certainly run through him one way or another this season.
Can the offensive line and run game pick up from where they left off last year?
In 2019, Beaufort’s rushing attack was off the charts. The Eagles rode the legs of James Dagin, Daniel Phares, and others on their way to an astounding 237 rushing yards per game. Of course, none of this would’ve happened if not for an outstanding offensive line. But losing James Dagin and linemen Caleb Hagood, Henry Manley, and Toby Strawderman will certainly be a challenge to overcome. We know this team loves to run the football, but can they still do it effectively without those key pieces from their unstoppable ground game in 2019? Senior Terrance Wilson will lead the way on the line, starting for his third straight season. Fellow senior Kayle Vasquez will look to build on a sizable amount of experience to contribute to Wilson’s continuity. But the other three on the line will be fresh faces. Lybrand has trust in his offensive line coach to develop the new starters, and he certainly should by the way linemen like Vasquez grew into impact players very quickly. But without a full spring season and then an abbreviated fall camp, the lack of experience could potentially hinder the success of the line. We should see Amariee Morris take the reins as the leading running back, with versatile Daniel Phares likely having a role as well. If the ground game can keep the wheels moving this season, it’ll make Tyler Haley’s job even easier, and the defense’s job much, much harder.
REGION AND BEYOND
Along with May River, the Beaufort Eagles are looking like one of the teams to beat in Region 7-4A. Provided that they get past James Island on Oct. 2, the next Friday at May River will be set to likely decide the region. Of course, only two teams get a spot in the 4A state playoffs, so if things go off the rails quickly, the season could be gone just like that. If the major pieces of this squad stay healthy, especially with their offensive stars and defensive line, they should have the inside track for a top-two finish. The first game against the Trojans will obviously be important, and if they can take care of Bluffton, Colleton County, and Hilton Head (the latter a potential dark horse if Sam Summa gets hot), they’ll certainly earn themselves an invitation to the dance in November.
10/2 — vs James Island*
10/9 — at May River*
10/16 — vs Bluffton*
10/23 — vs Colleton County*
10/30 — at Hilton Head*
Written by Wes Kerr / Photo by Jim Killian Photography