THOMSON - The worst-kept secret around town concerns the Bulldogs' new offensive coordinator.
He is none other than Mark Daniel, a Luther Welsh disciple who knows the Wing-T offense inside out. Daniel understands Welsh's coaching style so well he won a state title with it at Screven County in 2002, the same year Thomson last won a state crown.
Daniel played for Welsh at Dougherty and coached under him at Screven County before Welsh left for his second stint at Thomson in the late 1990s. Daniel joined Welsh's current staff in the offseason, becoming the team's assistant head coach as well as the school's assistant athletic director.
Daniel, who went 59-24 with the Gamecocks, is now heir to the throne, which the 74-year-old Welsh said he will abdicate within the next three or four years.
"He probably will be the head coach," Welsh said. "But it's not set in cement."
For now, Daniel has plenty to do to get ready for the season. The Bulldogs are coming off a 10-2 season, which included a second-round playoff loss at Dougherty.
Daniel will have plenty to work with on offense. Thomson returns its entire backfield. Quarterback Anthony Irwin, who played part of last season at running back, and fullback LaBrandon Hudson combined to rush for more than 2,100 yards in 2005.
But they'll be running behind a new offensive line that doesn't have the experience - or heft - of last year's group, which averaged 280 pounds per man.
Senior tackle Martell Winfrey (6-5, 305) and senior center Daniel Cheely (5-6, 220) will lead the way.
"I think we're going to be pretty set," Cheely said. "We've got a lot of heart on the line. When it comes down to it, we didn't have as much heart last year as I thought we did."
Thomson's main worry is defense. The Bulldogs return just four starters, including one of the front seven (senior defensive end Deltrick Sneed) in its 5-2 scheme.
"We're young up front," defensive coordinator John Barnett said. "Obviously, people can burn you with the pass. But if you can't stop the run, you're not going to win at any level."
The Bulldogs' defense was a concern entering last season as well. But Thomson shut out five opponents and allowed fewer than 11 points per game.
Sneed said he believes the defense will be just fine.
"We're well-disciplined," he said. "We're ready to work hard and get better."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.