Strom Thurmond went through an emotional roller-coaster in 1998. This season, the Rebels are hoping for a much smoother ride.
The Rebels dropped their first three games in '98 and were subjected to an injury-plagued season that forced head coach Brian Smith to play seldom-used reserves.
Toward midseason, the Friday nights brightened for the Rebels, and they finished with a chance to claim the Region 4-AAA championship with a win over Midland Valley. But a loss to the Mustangs meant Strom Thurmond had to settle for third place.
Even with the loss, the Rebels qualified for the Class AAA state playoffs, and they began the journey by knocking off Timberland in the first round.
The Rebels' ups and downs came to a close with a 27-21 loss to Dillon in the second round and a final 5-7 record.
"We were really frustrated after that loss, because we felt like we finally had a chance to get the ball rolling," Smith said. "We've just got to stay healthy this season because we don't have much depth. But we also have a pretty good mix of seniors who have a couple of years of experience."
Third-year starting quarterback Antwaun Hillary (6-foot, 180 pounds) heads that list. Hillary, who passed for more than 900 yards and rushed for 651 last season, is regarded as one of South Carolina's best athletes and is a major-college prospect.
He will be joined in the backfield by his cousin, Daryl Hillary, a senior running back who amassed 1,105 yards rushing as a junior. Daryl Hillary (5-9, 200) torched opponents in 1998, but his size remains a concern.
"Antwaun is just phenomenal in what he can do at quarterback," Smith said. "He can excel anywhere on the field. We count on him for a lot of things, with leadership being No. 1.
"Daryl is in the same boat. He's a man coming out of the backfield, but colleges have shied away because of his size."
Defensively, the Rebels will be led by senior end Lee Roy Turner (6-3, 280), who had more than 100 tackles last season. Turner also is a Division I prospect, but will have to guide an inexperienced defense.
"We're working on getting people some experience and moving some people around," Smith said. "It'll be five or six teams in the region fighting for the top spot again. It's going to be a struggle, but the kids love it. They have great attitudes and just love being apart of the Strom Thurmond tradition."
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