No team wants to be in the “rebuilding stage,” but after graduating 23 seniors from last year’s playoff team, South Effingham falls in that category heading into the 2016 season.
The Mustangs finished the 2015 season with a 7-3 record after losing to Houston County in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAAA playoffs. Although the team’s record may look like they coasted into the playoffs having lost only two regular season games – the season was far from easy.
When the Mustangs won, it was usually by a close margin. When the Mustangs lost, it too was usually by a close margin. Coach Donnie Revell, who has been leading the team since 2010, says last season’s close games will play a big factor this season.
“We won’t be all that young class-wise, but we’ll have a lot of inexperienced players,” Revell said. “A lot of those games were really close, so many of those sophomores and juniors that weren’t starters didn’t get a lot of playing time and experience.”
With only nine returning starters from last season, three offensive starters and six defensive starters, Revell and his staff will have their work cut out for them – but don’t count the Mustangs out.
One hundred players are listed on the roster for the 2016 season, many of who have been competing for starting positions during practice and workouts. One of the closest races is for starting quarterback, a position that Tyler Pullum (1,665 passing yards, 15 touchdowns in 2015) held for three years.
Revell said junior quarterback Anthony Beck is the frontrunner for the position. Beck carried the Mustangs to a 41-6 win over Groves High School in Friday night’s scrimmage with three touchdowns on 87 passing yards and 48 rushing yards.
In addition to quarterback, Revell will have to find replacements for his entire backfield.
To replace a running back like Patrick Brown (3,731 career rushing yards, 1,624 last season) will be a tough task. Revell said the running back position will be left to a committee, possibly getting help from some defensive players and being led by senior Darius Goldwire, who saw some playing time last season.
Wide receivers T.J. Williams (253 yards on 16 receptions last season) and Timmy Signal (377 yards on 28 receptions last season) return to the team.
Junior offensive tackle back Jacob McLeod (6-3, 315) also returns to the offense. McLeod brings some experience to the line after playing in five games last season. Hunter Johnson and Josh Fernandez, who both had some play time last year, will also be on the offensive line.
The Mustang defense has the most experience and will be a strength for the team.
In the 3-4 formation, Revell is confident that Irving Jones and Makenzey Newbill will return to the inside line. Brandon Moody, who played in the nose guard position last season, will shift to a linebacker role this season. Makenley Newbill and Chad Sullivan will be up front.
Although there are still holes to fill on both sides of the ball, Revell said he’s confident that his team will fall into place.
“It’s a matter of just putting that unit together that can play together,” he said. “We have great kids that work really hard, and my coaching staff is as good as any in the country. They work real hard to put players in the position to make a play.”
South Effingham opens up play at the Erk Russell Classic at Paulson Stadium on Friday night against Tift County. After that, Revell will have two weeks to prepare for his tough stretch of non-region games.
The new region alignments for 2016 place South Effingham in Region 2-AAAAA, along with New Hampstead, Statesboro, Ware County and Wayne County. Because there are only five teams in the region, only one team will not make it to the playoffs.
“If you start overlooking somebody, then you’ll get caught where you shouldn’t have got caught,” Revell said. “They understand that the next game is the important game and the rest of them down the road don’t matter if you don’t do well on this one. That’s always been our philosophy.”