Football can be cruel sometimes.
Even the most veteran coaches are not immune to lessons the game can dish out, Loris football coach Jamie Snider learning this the hard way a season ago.
“I remember the North Myrtle Beach game last year. We were down 24-7, but with the ball at their 15-yard line,” he said. “Our quarterback bootlegs, is hit and fumbles … he winds up with a concussion. That one play changed the game. If we punch that in, it’s a 10-point game and we’re in it.”
Unfortunately for the Snider, his coaches and players, it was a scene that played out all too often during the 2016 gridiron campaign.
The Lions struggled immensely on the offensive side of the football, averaging just a shade above 12 points and less than 200 yards per contest. In fact, the squad scored a mere 17 touchdowns all of last season.
Such troubles played a key role in Loris slipping to a 4-7 mark — its worst record since 2008.
“Our offense was certainly limited, but the way our defense played last season, we have to make those opportunities count,” Snider said. “Converting even a few of those red zone opportunities and those games could have been different.
“When we get into the red zone, we have to score. We have to finish things off.”
Defense may win championships, but without a dependable offense Snider understands his team’s playoff aspirations are on the fringe, at best. For that reason, the Lions spent much of spring ball and the start of preseason drills working on their offensive execution inside the 20-yard line.
“It is a constant work in progress, but I must say the kids have done everything they’ve been asked,” Snider said.
Everything for Loris will start in the trenches this season, where Snider is excited about the growth and potential players have shown on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
It’s exciting, really. I can truly say this will be our strongest and most experienced group up front. These guys came in and fell in love with the grind. I fully expect this to be our strongest group up front, and it bodes well for us this season.
Loris football coach Jamie Snider
Moving the opposing defensive line will be particularly important on offense, where the Lions hope to provide better protection for quarterback Levon Stevenson. The senior signal caller takes over the reins on a full-time basis after serving in relief duty a season ago.
If given enough time, Stevenson will have a bevy of options to choose from the passing game.
“James Walters and Jahrique Isaiah did well for us in 7-on-7 passing leagues this past summer, and Kendrick Goodson can stretch things out either as a slot guy or out of the backfield,” Snider said. “Travis Walters should also help out a lot, playing a hybrid halfback, tight end position. So we have the targets if they do a good job of getting open; it’s just about the offensive line giving (Stevenson) time.”
The Lions’ offensive line will also be asked to do a better job in establishing the team’s ground game, which last season averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Even as the Loris football coach hopes his quarterback has time to build a house brick-by-brick in the pocket, he’s hoping a physical defensive line barely gives opposing quarterbacks a chance to blink.
Senior Andrew Wilson had 86 total tackles a season ago from his spot at defensive tackle. Capable of wrecking an opponent’s game plan by himself, he’ll have a full season of help from junior Javontae Turrentine, who tips the scale at 325 pounds.
“(Wilson) is getting some looks from colleges, and will have a chance to further his education and play college ball,” Snider said. “Turrentine is a transfer from Georgia, who at better than 320 pounds can bend and is extremely athletic to be that big. He’ll need to get his weight down, but he certainly can play himself into earning a scholarship as well.
Tyrien Riggins will also see time at defensive tackle.
At the linebacker level, the Lions will lack some experience, at least early on. By no means is all lost, though, as last season’s top tackler in Zack Jordan is back to serve in a hybrid linebacker/safety role, with Travis Walters serving in a similar role.
As for the defensive backfield, Goodson and Corey Hemingway will do their part to limit teams through the air.
Coach: Jamie Snider (46-25 in six years)
2016 record: 4-7, 2-3 Region VI-3A (lost to Timberland in first round of Class 3A playoffs)
Key players: Travis Walters (Sr., WR), Zach Jordan (Sr., LB), Andrew Wilson (Sr., DL)
The word: Loris is accustomed to winning double the number of games it did in 2016, four being quite the low number for the Lions since coach Jamie Snider took reins of the program. Hard-nosed football will again be the calling card, particularly on defense where Loris' top two tacklers return from a season ago. Still, the question remains whether it can put pieces together on the offensive side of the ball, thus enabling the team to succeed.