LANGLEY — Before football season could begin at Midland Valley High School, head coach Rick Knight first had to play a little chess.
The Mustangs suffered through a 1-9 season a year ago, and Knight decided to move many of his returning starters to different positions this season, hoping to take advantage of certain players’ athleticism.
“Just trying to get the best 11 on the field,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out where to put people and where to put them to make us better as a unit.”
Midland Valley lost its leading tackler, rusher and passer from last year’s team. The offensive backfield will feature a trio of skill players – junior quarterback Trenton Baughman and tailbacks Dre Carr and Derrick O’Connor – who have little varsity experience on offense.
That’s part of the reason why Knight pulled senior Nick Bell off the offensive line to start at middle linebacker this year and strengthen a defense that will need to carry the team at least through the early portion of the schedule.
“It’s definitely been different, but I feel like these are good changes,” Bell said. “There’s definitely a lot more things running through your head. You’ve got to watch what the offense is doing a lot more and take on more responsibility.”
Taking on more responsibility is something Knight has preached to his players in recent years. He said the message has started to sink in regarding commitment to the program.
“I like our kids. They work hard. They have good attitudes. They’re a good bunch,” he said. “They just need to recognize the fact that if we want to improve as a program we’re going to have to put forth a little more year-round effort. We’re trying to do that.”
The program will once again receive a difficult test right away when Midland Valley starts the season at in-county rival North Augusta on Thursday night in a locally-televised game. The Yellow Jackets already have a game under their belts thanks to a Week 0 road win, but the inexperienced Mustangs have had limited game-time experience in scrimmage settings due to this year’s rainout of the Aiken County Jamboree.
Midland Valley hasn’t beaten its closest rival since 1998 and appeared ready to end the streak last year when the Mustangs led North Augusta at halftime with a strong defensive effort. But the Yellow Jackets eventually broke through for the win, and Midland Valley went on to post their worst season in five years.
With adjustments made to the starters this season, Bell said confidence is higher this time around.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “We’ve got things put together real well, and we’re clicking a lot more than last year. I’m real confident.”