By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – A heralded senior class that provided leadership will be leaving Effingham County's football program, but Coach John Ford doesn't have a lack of candidates hoping to take their places.
The Rebels opened spring practice May 3 and 4 and Ford liked the enthusiasm from the new group.
ECHS, 7-4 last season, continued practice May 8 and 9. The Rebels' 10 workouts will conclude May 19 with an intra-squad spring game.
"We had a good two days – a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of running around. I like this team's intangibles," Ford said. "We have some experience back which we hope takes another step and we also have a lot of young hungry kids who are competing for jobs from the seniors we had last year."
Ford said the offense's leaders have been Nate Hayes, Zach Webb, Josh Ford, Jayden Evans, Damion Gordon and Zach Harbin.
Hayes, a rising senior, returns after starting all 11 games at quarterback last season. He threw for 1,658 yards with 14 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
Evans, a tailback, was another offensive focal point with 1,125 rushing yards and seven scores.
Bryson Horton, Christian Dillon and Joe Polite have been defensive leaders. Horton, a linebacker, is the team's leading returning tackler with 63 stops.
While positions are rarely solidified during the spring, Ford said Gordon, a reserve running back, will have an opportunity to show he deserves more playing time.
The rising junior, who ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns last season, will be the featured tailback in practice as Evans recovers from shoulder surgery in February.
Gordon had a couple of memorable games last season. He ran for 62 yards and a score in a key 35-22 win over Evans. He also had a 48-yard TD run against South Effingham in a 29-3 victory.
Gordon also led the non-wide receivers with seven catches for 70 yards.
"Damion will be our lead guy at tailback (during the spring)," Ford said. "He's a dynamic athlete. We'll try to get him the ball in as many ways as we can. We'll hand him the ball or put him in the slot or out wide and throw him the ball. That's just smart for us to do."
Ford said he has about 85 10th-through-12th graders in spring camp with another 25-35 rising ninth graders coming over from Effingham County Middle School and Ebenezer Middle School.
ECHS opens the 2023 season Aug. 18 at home against Richmond Hill.