The Rebels football program has been a force in South Carolina, winning a state title in 2005 and going through yearly playoff runs in other years.
In what proved to be star quarterback Jauveer Hammond’s and coach Lee Sawyer’s final season, Strom Thurmond went 11-2 and reached the state semifinals in 2013. Sawyer went 107-24 in 10 seasons as the Rebels’ head coach.
The “new” guys taking the pair’s roles are Tyree Stidem, from receiver to quarterback, and Antwaun Hillary, from offensive coordinator to head coach. Hillary was also a former star at Strom Thurmond, where he was first team all-area as a senior for the 1999 season.
The winning expectations won’t stop at Strom Thurmond, even with the personnel changes.
“There’s always pressure, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself, because you care about the kids and you care about the program,” Hillary said. “I just want to get out there and do the best you can and hope the end result is a ‘W.’ ”
Defensively, most of the line is back from a unit that was almost as stingy as the offense was powerful: the Rebels’ average score was 31.8-17.6. Chad Stevens headlines the front.
On the other side of the ball, Stidem has talent to work with. Running back Chad Gilchrist had a breakout season as a sophomore, rushing for more than 1,000 yards.
Gilchrist should have an even bigger season this fall.
“People are going to be gearing toward stopping him,” Hillary said. “I think he’s ready for that challenge. We’re going to give it to him as much as we can, but I think he’s matured and ready to embrace that challenge.”
Of course, any offensive movement starts with Stidem, who could help Strom Thurmond march to a seventh consecutive region title.
“It’s just a fun role to be in, knowing you’re a leader and you have to carry the team,” Stidem said. “People think it’s pressure, but I like that.”