After making back-to-back playoff appearances, Hephzibah has won five games the past three years. Stone, a center, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2 last year, when the Rebels went 0-10.
Now that he’s back fully healthy, Stone expects a turnaround.
“Me and my teammates have been out here working hard all summer,” he said. “We’re making the team bigger and going all out.”
Ninth-year Hephzibah coach John Bowen is working to revamp the program with his small number of players and coaches. Bowen has just five assistants, two of them working at Hephzibah High and two serving as community coaches. Because of the numbers, Bowen also serves as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and also helps with the defensive backs.
Hephzibah will have about 35 players on varsity this season, and will feature just seven seniors.
Bowen said his team has been focusing more on strength and conditioning in the spring and summer. He’s also made changes to the playbook, scrapping the spread attack for an offense that features the I-formation and some two-back sets. He said the team will benefit twofold from the move: the linemen will have fewer blocking schemes to worry about, and the team should be able to control more of the clock.
Hephzibah will feature a trio of powerful running backs with junior Quintae Brown (5-foot-8, 185 pounds), junior Raheem Jennings (6-0, 190) and sophomore Wallace Curtis (5-10, 190). All three bench press more than 275 pounds, Bowen said.
“We don’t expect them to break 80-yard runs,” Bowen said. “We expect them to go to the hole and be their own blocker if they have to at times.”
On defense, Hephzibah will run a 3-5-3 base set. Bowen said he expects to blitz more at times this year.
“I think the fans will see a team that’ll play harder,” he said. “They’re going to see a team that’s going to play with more spirit and be more fundamentally sound.”