By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — South Effingham’s fourth-year coach Nathan Clark took an in depth look at his football program and realized a change was needed.
Back-to-back seasons of 1-9 and 2-8 will make you do that.
“I’ve tried to look into every aspect of everything we were doing and make adjustments accordingly,” Clark said. “I sat down with the coordinators (and discussed), ‘What do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ Everything. From the way we conducted speed training, to practice, to how we do weight room, everything. We’ve tried to revamp things if they need it.”
The Mustangs are four days away from Friday’s season opener at Vidalia, but Aug. 12’s impressive 35-14 scrimmage win against Southeast Bulloch, a 10-win team in 2021, should have Guyton buzzing.
SEHS unveiled a power running attack that gouged the Yellow Jackets for 325 rushing yards, 202 in the second half. And if the Mustangs wanted to be greedy they could have scored another touchdown, opting to take a knee on the final play of the game inside the SEB 10.
“We have about 20 guys with starting experience and they’re a year older, a year stronger and they believe in what we’re doing,” Clark said. “The energy has been better.”
On offense, SEHS’ line play and running backs will be paramount in a single wing/Wing-t hybrid attack that Clark simply labels ‘our offense.’ The Mustangs threw only three passes (in 45 plays) against the Yellow Jackets. SEHS averaged almost eight yards a run.
“We’ll line them up and have them in a bunch of different formations with a bunch of different plays,” said Clark with unintentional Bill Belichick wry. “Whatever the defense gives us, we want to make sure we take it.”
Junior Aubrey Heath started at quarterback against the Yellow Jackets, although Clark maintains Heath and Kaden DeGenaro will enter the Vidalia game week neck and neck for the starting job.
“In practice, they’ve both shown signs they can do (lead the team) and at times they’ve shown they need improvement,” Clark said. “We’re still trying to figure out which quarterback is the guy.”
The starting offensive line consists of Aiden Dean, Mason Anderson, CJ Lord, Brinstian Runkle or Peyton Kirby and Ashton Anderson with Micah Hunt as a backup.
Dean tore his ACL at the start of last season and saw limited playing time. Mason Anderson, who Clark called “the team’s best base blocker”, won the lineman award at Reinhardt University’s summer camp.
Shane Alvin, Matt Moore, Jackson Smith and Jacob Taylor add more muscle on the line at tight end.
Running back Cameron Edwards, the Region 2-AAAAAA Offensive Player of the Year last season, has graduated and gone off to Savannah State University.
Clark says Edwards’ 1,000-yard rushing production will have to be made up by committee.
It’s a talented committee led by senior speedster Jamari Fields, the team’s returning leader in all-purpose yards with 618 yards, with Cole Hoffman and Justin Martell. Fields rushed for 115 yards and two scores against SEB.
Robert Clark, Kadin Ward and Jah’Tavion Weickerson will see time at fullback and Colin Edwards and Ashton Troutman are at wide receiver.
Defensively, Clark expects to see improvement from a unit that surrendered more than 40 points a game.
Defensive linemen Tanner Hughes and DaMyon McFarlin, linebacker William Christmas and defensive back Tyrik Guyton all earned honorable mention all-region accolades last season.
Clark said Dylan Ward, a 6-foot-2, 263-pound lineman, will have a chance to be his first freshman starter at SEHS.
At defensive back, Martell displayed his big-play abilities with two interceptions against SEB.
Matt Moore, Riley Bilenski (coming off an ACL tear), Mason Anderson, Jaiden Washburn and Ashton Anderson solidify the line.
Linebacker Rakeam Williams had 41 stops last season to lead the Mustangs returnees.
Enrique Santana and Chase Whittle provide depth at inside linebacker.
JaQuan Albright, Weickerson, Jeremiah Washington and Gannon White will fight for playing time at outside linebacker.
In the secondary, returnee Dominic Martell will be joined by Effingham County-transfer Jaden Sanders to go along with Justin Martell and Guyton. Troutman and Nicholas Sessions will be the backups.
Tyler Quick, Hoffman, Peyton Kirby and Heath will contend for the punting job. Quick and Irvin Herrera will handle the placekicking.
“I feel we’re better than last year,” Clark said. “Will the results show it? I hope so.”