NORTH AUGUSTA – After one of the more successful seasons in the program’s recent history, North Augusta will have a new face directing the show from the sideline.
Head coach Brian Thomas enters with big shoes to fill, but the 48-year-old is no stranger to the situation.
“It hasn’t been any big transition,” Thomas said. “We fell right in and things have gone smoothly. Having veteran coaches helps out a great deal.”
Thomas takes over for Dan Pippin, who led North Augusta to a 70-33 record in eight seasons and reached the semifinals three of the past four years before leaving for Greenwood.
Thomas previously coached at Northern Guilford in North Carolina, where his team went 12-3 in his one year as head coach. He was previously defensive coordinator during the team’s three-year run of state championships from 2010-12.
North Augusta coordinators Craig Gilstrap and Derrick Quinn remain to give the program a sense of continuity. Gilstrap will continue to call offensive plays using a spread formation and no-huddle tempo. Quinn will direct the defense but under changes implemented by the defensive-minded Thomas.
“Some of that terminology has changed,” Thomas said. “The kids have taken well to it. We haven’t missed a whole lot. Having spring practice allowed us to get a lot of install time.”
The offense lost familiar names at skill positions, but new starters are expected to make the transition. Senior quarterback Trib Reece will be looked upon as the program leader after running the offense through the air the past two seasons, while the Yellow Jackets will again have a strong rushing duo in Cam Matthews and Brandon Houston.
A key will be the development of an inexperienced offensive line. Returning starter Victor Johnson will move to left tackle to protect Reece, but the rest of the line will be new.
North Augusta’s defense returns more starters and should be one of the more athletic groups in the area. Thomas’ tweaks allow the defense to take advantage of its speed.
Perhaps the team’s greatest strength is the return of defensive backs Mike Chavous and Mannie Ogletree.
Despite an inexperienced offensive line and several changes at key positions, expectations should remain high for North Augusta. The team has vocal leadership in key spots, and the skill positions should continue to bear fruit.
For Reece and his fellow seniors, it’s their last chance to pass the semifinal hurdle. The Yellow Jackets are again region favorites, but goals go beyond the regular season.
“We have a target on our back,” Reece said. “We just need to practice on Thanksgiving like last year and try to contend for a state championship.”