By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Loren Purvis is getting a second chance to make a first impression at South Effingham High School.
Four years ago, he joined Coach Nathan Clark's football staff as offensive coordinator and stayed two years before moving on to Morgan County.
Now Purvis, 33, is back, a little more experienced, as the Mustangs' head coach.
"This community was special to me," Purvis said. "I always thought we had good kids and I always thought this place would be a special place to coach and raise a family."
His first stint at SEHS went well. The Mustangs had gone three years without a winner. Then, Clark and Purvis turned in a 6-5 record and a playoff appearance in their first season in 2019.
Now South is in another three-year, sub-.500 drought.
Last season, the Mustangs (4-5) doubled their win total from 2021, but they still haven't beaten a team with a winning record since 2019.
They'll get that chance in the season-opener Aug. 18 against Vidalia at the Corral.
"Culture is a bad buzzword that gets thrown out there a lot," Purvis said. "There's a lot on the seniors to change the atmosphere. What do you want your legacy to be?"
Senior quarterback Kaden DeGenaro will run Purvis' multiple offense which showed wing T and one-back spread in last week's scrimmage against Southeast Bulloch.
DeGenaro started two years ago.
"Kaden has done a good job learning the offense and getting everyone in the right place," Purvis said. "He's emerging more and more as a leader."
DeGenaro's growth allows Purvis to play versatile Aubrey Heath, last year's starting quarterback, at wide receiver and defensive back.
SEHS has improving skill players. Sophomore running back Kadin Ward, who shined in the second half of last season, is the leading returning rusher with 494 yards and six touchdowns. JaKeim Leeks, DaMyon McFarlin, Gannon White and Hayden Purvis will be main contributors in the backfield as well.
At wide receiver, Ashton Troutman stands out with Dominic Martell, Adan Saturday and Heath. Troutman led the team last season with 11 catches for 110 yards.
Ashton Anderson, a wrestling state champion in the 285-pound weight class, anchors an experienced offensive line with fellow seniors CJ Lord and Peyton Kirby and junior Colby Triplett.
South's defense surrendered only 18.8 points a game last season – the fewest points since 2005. Linebacker Jeremiah Washington, one of the unit's top performers, and Martell, a defensive back, are the team's leading returning tacklers with 43 stops each. Washington had 11 tackles for losses.
Up front, Jaiden Washburn, Dylan Ward, Riley Bilenski, and Tanner Hughes will compete for playing time in the 3-3-5 alignment. Washington is joined by Corbin McGuire and Chase Whittle at linebacker.
And there's depth in the secondary with Troutman, Heath, Martell, Josh Brooks, and sophomores Kaden Solomon and Jakey Connelly all in the mix.
Tyler Quick, a defenseman on the soccer team, returns as one of the area's most accurate kickers. He made 17 of 18 extra-point kicks and 7 of 9 field-goal attempts last season.
Goals for this 2023 team?
"More wins than losses is always the goal. Playing 11 games (making the state playoffs) would be special," Purvis said. "We have some individual talent, but collectively, I think we can be a team that is greater than the sum of its individual parts."