Battling injuries and a 1-5 start last season, Hephzibah rebounded to win three in a row before falling to Richmond Academy, 35-6, in a game that would have put the Rebels in the state playoffs had they won.
“It put something sour in all of us,” Hephzibah quarterback Terry Robinson said. “We got a chip on our shoulder. We’re coming out ready to get to it.”
The goal this year is to play at least one more game, meaning the Rebels would make it to the state playoffs for the third time in four years.
But coach John Bowen said there aren’t as many proven leaders as there were in the past. Another concern is the inexperience at offensive line, even with 6-foot-4, 300-pound Wayne Wingrove back.
Elsewhere on offense, after a string of injuries struck the running backs in 2010, Bowen hopes Jamar Thornton and Levonte Reddick, among others, stay healthy.
The key returner, however, is Robinson, who threw for about 1,700 yards as a junior.
Bowen needs the quarterback to help the wide receivers, a unit that isn’t as deep as it was last fall, when players like Shaquille Wheeler and Eric Ortiz helped lead. Robinson said he’ll look to Quan Darlington and tight end Lavorius Beasley this fall.
Defensively, the Rebels will depend on the line with the linebackers mostly unproven.
Reddick, who’s also a defensive back, has taken on a bigger leadership role on defense, knowing the team can help the linebackers grow early in the season.
Besides youth, a tough schedule is again an obstacle for Hephzibah.
Reddick is optimistic, however, that his team can perform well during a three-week stretch against Thomson, Washington County and Burke County.
Those three went a combined 27-9-1 in 2010, and Bowen hopes solid showings against the trio – not present last year – will lead to a strong finish in the season’s final weeks.
“Sometimes when you play that tough schedule we played in the first half, it’s bound to toughen you up if you can keep your heart and your mind about it,” Bowen said. “When you play that kind of people, as long as you’re getting better and not giving up, it’s going to pay off.”