Jamie Snider’s first season as a head coach is out of the way.
Now, the Loris leader has his first chance to see if he can successfully rebuild his team.
Fresh off a 9-2 season in which the Lions won their first eight games, earned a first round bye for the newly formatted Class AA playoffs and had their best win tally since 2001, Snider and company are working with wholesale changes at the majority of the field. The squad lost seven starters from a defense that allowed just 13.1 points per game and six starters from its highly efficient running game.
Still, the message is the same as it was last year.
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“We try to keep it real simple,” Snider said. “We take the same approach we took last year. Some kids may say something about a [future opponent]. But the only thing that matters is the next game. It worked well last year. I don’t know if it will work well this year.”
Snider is looking at the turnover as an opportunity, if for no other reason that the bulk of his new starters are juniors. Granted, those players have big shoes to fill.
Gone are the team’s top two ball carriers, quarterback Kentrez Hilton (938 yards, nine touchdowns) and Fred Bryant (880 yards, seven touchdowns).
In their place will be converted receiver Mickel Soles, a senior, and junior tailback Ryan Bellamy. The two already understand the offense, but the level at which they move the ball could be the difference.
Bellamy has already shown a big-time potential. In addition to his experience at running back, he was also the difference in a key win over Mullins last October, when he returned a punt for a touchdown in the Lions’ 10-0 win that all but secured a first-round playoff bye. Earlier in the year, he broke off a long run against North Myrtle Beach to help break open a game that was tied at halftime.
Accompanied by three returning senior offensive linemen – guards Joel Stevens and Derrick Faircloth and tackle Latrez Chestnut – the Lions have no intentions of abandoning a running game that accounted for 88 percent of its offense a year ago.
Defensively, Loris will have to contend with the loss of linebacker D.L. Griffin. He put up a huge senior year in which he accumulated 105 tackles and was all over the field.
He was one of six outgoing seniors who started on defense in 2011, and then starting cornerback Alquez Gore (74 tackles, three interceptions) graduated early and entered the military. That opened the door for more of those younger players to step into bigger roles.
“I haven’t heard our kids say ‘We’re going to win 10 games,’” Snider said. “They’re just happy they finally get to get on the field.”
And while that might mean some growing pains, it also turns this squad into a two-year project of sorts. If some of those guys don’t produce, they’ll be replaced with someone who will. But if they do their jobs, this year’s team should be full of players just getting started.
“It’s concerning, but it’s also exciting,” Snider said. “Every year is a whole new team anyway, even if you have the whole team coming back, which we don’t. We’re going to be a lot younger, particularly on defense.
“Next year at this time, we’ll be talking about the same kids. Most everybody who we’re expecting production from will be back.”