After a historic 2015 season, the Effingham County Rebels hope to come out ready to pick up where they left off – minus a few key players.
ECHS went undefeated at home, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by the Rebels since 1987, and finishing with a 7-3 record. Even though the team boasted a winning record, the three close losses kept them from advancing to the state playoffs.
“We weren’t satisfied with (going undefeated at home), because we didn’t make the playoffs,” Rebels head coach Buddy Holder said. “But it was a tough region, and when you play tough people like that, you have to win day in and day out.”
Holder is using that kind of attitude to motivate his players.
The Rebels have moved up in classification for the 2016 season and will now compete in Region 2-AAAAAA. The new region is composed of familiar faces for the Rebels – Bradwell Institute, Brunswick, Glynn Academy and Richmond Hill – so there should be no surprises on what to expect with region play.
The non-region schedule is composed of old region-mates South Effingham, Coffee and Statesboro, as well as a mix of new opponents from class AAA through class AAAAAA.
Having only lost a few starters to graduation, the Rebels may have the experience to dominate their schedule this season.
The main hole to fill is the quarterback position that was held by Phillip Brown (1,014 passing yards, 685 rushing yards last season) who received a scholarship to Benedict College in South Carolina.
Instead of looking to one man to fill the gap though, two players have emerged who may share some playing time at the position – but they are quite different and quite young.
Sophomore Jerid Stokes is one of those players – possibly the throwing quarterback. Holder describes Stokes as a big, strong player who can throw the ball really well. Last year, Stokes had two touches at the varsity level, completing both passes for a total of 19 yards.
Junior Zebrandon Gant is the other player – possibly the running quarterback. Gant played at the QB position for the junior varsity team during his freshman year. Last season, Holder moved him up to the varsity level to play as a tailback, where he earned 256 rushing yards on 56 carries and earned another 59 passing yards on four receptions.
“You’ve got a guy that’s big and strong and can run the ball a little bit, and you’ve got a bigger and stronger kid that throws the ball really well, but he just doesn’t quite run like the other guy,” Holder said. “It kind of gives you two dimensions for the competition to get ready for.”
Two other holes in the roster standout to Holder – one 6-foot2, 294 pound-hole that opened up in the offensive and defensive line when Ray Ard transferred to Jenkins County, and a hole at the defensive back position that was held by now-graduated Dusty Baker.
Now that last Friday’s scrimmage against Screven County is in the books, Holder said he thinks these holes will fill in and the team can begin getting ready to face Coffee in the 5th annual Erk Russell Classic Friday at Paulson Stadium.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure,” Holder said. “But we’re going to try to be as good as we can possibly be this Friday, then we’ll come back Monday and try to fix any mistakes we made. When we go (play) the next Friday, we’re going to try to be the best team we’ve been all year at that point. That’s all we can control.”