Hephzibah is two years removed from its fifth 0-10 season in school history, but you won’t find anyone dwelling on the past.
After a drop in classification and a solid core of seniors, the Rebels enter this year looking for more than just a winning season. Players like senior running back/cornerback D’Angelo Stokes are thinking about a possible postseason berth.
“I know we haven’t been the best team over the past couple of years, but we’re getting better each year,” Stokes said. “We’re trying to get better in every aspect of the game.”
Coach John Bowen enters his 10th season as the winningest coach at Hephzibah, the only coach to lead the Rebels to two playoff appearances. His 30 wins in nine seasons (3.3 wins a year) might not seem like a lot, but the program averaged 2.7 wins a year since 1954 before his arrival. And the school gets little support for football.
Because Hephzibah has lost two physical education coaching positions in his tenure, Bowen has just two other full-time assistants, defensive line coach Richard Jones and offensive line coach Thomas Kilpatrick, to go with three volunteer assistants. Bowen will serve three roles this season: offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and head coach.
“It’ll make the games go by quicker,” Bowen quipped.
Bowen has about 40 players on the roster. BHe said his top 10 players are as good as any 10 players he’s had since 2009, when the Rebels last made the playoffs.
After going 0-10 in 2012, Hephzibah switched back to running the I-formation on offense. Last year, the Rebels got back in a rhythm, winning four games.
While Hephzibah’s defense remains a question, the offense will stay in the ‘I’ and will have plenty of weapons. Behind senior quarterback Darryl Hammond, senior running backs Raheem Jennings (6-foot-1, 190) and Quintae Brown will provide speed and power in the backfield – each player lifts almost 300 pounds. Also, Stokes is expected to get some carries.
“It’s going to be carries by committee,” Bowen said. “I’ve never had that much quality at running back in my entire career.”
The running backs will get help up front, with four returning starters on the offensive line. Hephzibah has plenty of size with senior right guard Cam Danner (6-0, 260), senior left guard Corey Thornton (6-1, 300), right tackle Aaron Carswell (6-3, 275), junior center Foster Ford (6-0, 290) and junior left tackle Leroy Kyler (6-0, 215).
“They’ve been in the trenches and they’ve been tested,” Bowen said. “They’re a big reason why we have confidence in our running game.”
Bowen said Hephzibah plans to grind it out in the ground this season. But with junior wide receiver Darryl Baker, who averaged 23 yards a catch last season, the Rebels will throw enough to keep teams honest.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to move the ball,” Bowen said. “If that means we switch offenses five weeks into the year, we’re not just going to sit there and do something and not be able to move the ball.”