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Rebels coach optimistic about future
Cooper Nease
Rebels Cooper Nease (23) and Tucker Wilson (22) head to the sideline after leading a defensive stop against Screven County on Aug. 13. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Always exuding positivity, Effingham County’s first-year football coach John Ford won’t take a peek backward.

“A windshield is bigger than a rear-view mirror so we’ll focus on what’s in front of us,” said Ford during an early summer workout.

Ford joined the Rebels in January after two years as a defensive coordinator at Bleckley County. He’s been a head coach at ultra-successful programs Roswell and Buford.

Now he’s taking on a rebuilding project in Springfield, but there’s rarely talk about the previous two-win and three-win seasons here.

Instead, Ford spoke optimistically and was backed up by his players’ performances during a spring game win over Wayne County and a recent scrimmage win against Screven County.

ECHS’ next challenge comes Friday night at home against the Beaufort (SC) Eagles — a squad that defeated defending Region 2-AAAAAA champion Richmond Hill 28-8 on Aug. 20.

“The things we did well (against Screven), we have to keep doing well and we have to keep progressing,” Ford said. “We have some kids we like with the ball in their hands and whatever we have to do to get it to them, we’re willing to do.”

First-year senior starting quarterback Matthew Ford, no relation to the coach, will direct the spread offensive attack. Ford looked like a point guard against Screven, completing 11 of 12 passes to seven different receivers for 108 yards during the first two series.

Quick-footed sophomore quarterback Nate Hayes adds a running dimension to the offense as a backup and elusive freshman Lamar Roberts could be a contributor as well.

ECHS’ all-region wide receiver/defensive end Keion Wallace, a junior who already has offers from Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, will miss the season because of shoulder injury, but there will be plenty of candidates to fill the void.

Ashley Thompson, Timmy Brown, Caleb Williams and Khiry Wallace — all starters on the Rebels basketball team — will shuffle in and out at receiver along with Messiah Bacon, Timmy Burnsed and Miquel Allen.

Trevor Shanning, Bryce Goldwire and Zach Harbin are in the tight end mix.

Xayvier Coppock and Allen will run behind an offensive line that will be counting on Rett Heller, Desmond Montgomery, Josh Kleckauskas, Jackson Blaine, Nic Silva-Brown and Trey Gordy.

Heller, a 6-foot, 270-pound senior center, has been a team leader in the weight room.

Defensively, ECHS, which will be looking to shore up a unit that allowed 26.9 points a game, has multiple returning playmakers.

Keysean McCarr, a junior tackle, was a leader in pressuring the quarterback last season. Senior linebackers Tucker Wilson and Tyler Wells, both second-team all-region honorees last season, were among the team's leading tacklers and Thompson can be a disruptive force at free safety.

Nose guard Christian Dillon and end Cooper Nease join McCarr on the line. Tren Robinson will play the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.

CJ Reese will be a starter at outside linebacker.

The secondary has a familiar wide receiver flavor with Allen, Williams, Khiry Wallace, Brown and Bacon joining Thompson.

Wells, who will handle the punting chores, was ranked nationally by Kohl’s prestigious kicking camp.

Wyatt Lein returns to do the placekicking.

The Rebels displayed some improvement last season and just reversing the outcomes of games with Statesboro (a 35-33 loss) and Howard (a 17-14 loss) would have made ECHS a .500 team.

If the Rebels had beaten Statesboro, they would have made the state tournament.

But Ford won't look out the rear-view mirror, there's even better things ahead.

“We have a group of great, great young men,” Ford said. “I love coaching them. I love being around them. They’re blue-collar. They’re hard workers and play the game the right way. ... I feel good about where we are right now, but we have a long way to go to where our finished product can be and should be.”