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Mustangs looking to rebound in 2021
Kaden DeGenero
Mustangs quarterback Kaden DeGenero (12) drops back to pass against Beach on Friday. JaKeim Leeks (21) is providing protection. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

GUYTON -- South Effingham football coach Nathan Clark knew the 29-0 win over Beach in a scrimmage Friday night wouldn’t count in the standings.

But it counted in another important area.

“I think it showed we’ve made a lot of progress since the spring,” Clark said. “And any time you’re going in the right direction, that’s a good sign.”

The Mustangs won only four games in three years before Clark arrived in Guyton in 2019. His first year, they won six of their first seven games and advanced to the state playoffs.

But SEHS couldn’t swerve away from COVID issues, key injuries and a tough schedule last season and the Mustangs returned to a 1-9 season.

Now Clark is rebuilding and a win, any win, starts the framework.

Another challenging season is ahead, beginning Friday night with a trip to Class A state semifinalist Metter.

Sophomore quarterback Kaden DeGenero, who started on the SEHS freshman team last season, will run the offense. Against Beach, he efficiently directed two touchdowns and two field goals during his first five full possessions.

Another sophomore, Aubrey Heath, played quarterback and engineered a second-half score.

With the two quarterbacks, the team displayed offensive balance throughout the scrimmage -- running for 169 yards and throwing for 160 yards.

The Mustangs have a talented stable of running backs with Cameron Edwards, JaKeim Leeks, Jamari Fields and Joell Laldee. Leeks, a sophomore, had a productive scrimmage, running for two scores and a team-high 74 yards.

Mason Anderson will play the fullback/tight end role and when the team looks for extra muscle, 6-foot-2, 250-pounder Nick Milbrandt will be summoned.

Clark said Robert Clark and Louis Hicks should see action in the hybrid position as well.

At wide receiver, Justin Martell will be a key target. Shifty Laldee (5-7, 157) and Fields (5-6, 140) might be hard to find but should be fun to watch  in the open field. Sophomores Ashton Troutman and Tyler Ergle and junior Justice Mydell will be in the mix for playing time as well.

Senior Peyton Beasley, a 6-3, 250-pound tackle, anchors the offensive line. Two more seniors Daniel Lukavsky and Jake Schielke add experience to go along with sophomores Aiden Dean, Ashton Anderson and center Shane Alvin. Valuable sophomore CJ Lord will back up all the line positions.

Defensively, coach Sean McNamee, in his second year at SEHS, will move to coordinator and Donald Chumley is now the Mustangs assistant head coach.

The defense played well against Beach and recorded 11 tackles for losses, two turnovers and a safety. The Bulldogs finished with minus 7 yards of offense in 35 plays.

The Mustangs will remain in a three-man front with senior Derrick Pounds at nose guard surrounded by Tanner Hughes and Milbrandt.

DaMyon McFarlin, Matt Moore, Beasley, Alvin, Lukavsky, Richard Hall, Jackson Smith and Anderson are also in the defensive line rotation.

Edwards has shown to be a good fit for the striker position, which can line up at defensive end or outside linebacker. William Christmas should see plenty of time as Edwards’ backup.

Hicks is in the middle at linebacker and senior Bernard Bentley, who moved into the district from Jenkins, will start at joker (weakside linebacker).

Jah’Tavion Weickerson, Briton Purser, Alex Chambless and Jeremiah Washington add depth.

In the secondary, Martell, a cornerback, will team with his younger brother Dominic, a free safety. Tyrik Guyton, Victavious Smith and Mydell are competing for playing time at corner. Ahmir Bostick, LJ Childers, Nick Sessions and Ergle are eyeing safety.

Kicker/punter Liam Rickman, a senior, should give SEHS a weapon on special teams. During the summer, highly regarded kicking camp Kohl’s ranked Rickman among the top kickers in the country.

Rickman booted field goals of 41 and 26 yards and two extra-points and had a booming 44-yard punt in the scrimmage against Beach.