NEWBERRY — Phil Strickland has won five state championships in stops at Batesburg-Leesville and Gaffney during his coaching career.
He had Newberry on the brink of playing for a state title last season, but the Bulldogs were eliminated in overtime in the Class 2A semifinals by Fairfield Central.
Strickland said he believes the foundation is set to get over the hump this season.
Newberry returns six starters on offense and defense and has enough faith in sophomore quarterback Yafari Werts that last year’s starting quarterback was moved to defense.
Khalil Sheppard, the quarterback last year, is being counted on to be a leader in the defensive secondary this season.
“We were close to getting there last year,” Strickland said. “We have some guys back and I think that’s why people have us ranked so highly in the preseason. But I don’t care about the ranking now. I’m more concerned with them at the end of the season.”
Werts has made youthful mistakes but the upside has the Bulldogs faithful excited. The 6-foot-1, 172-pounder is a threat with his arm or his legs.
“We haven’t changed much offensively,” Strickland said. “Werts is extremely talented. He runs it well and can make most of the throws.
“We’re going to spread the ball out and run him some. We’ll still run a lot of I-formation and play-action pass but we want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
The backfield has other talent. Omar Sims will move from fullback to tailback and probably split carries with Tysheen Nance, who had over 450 yards in a reserve role.
The receiving corps took a big hit due to graduation, but Newberry will be able to create many mismatches with the size of their receivers. Trey Gary is 6-4 and Dominic Gilmore is 6-3, 225 pounds, and making the move from tight end. Jaylen Lindsay will also play some wide out. He’s also one of the starting safeties.
Drew Ahrens and Stephen Davis are two additional threats at tight end.
The offensive line will work in two new players, but have returning talent in Ray Williams at tackle. Lorenzo Bookman moved from guard to tackle, and Jake Bickley will again handle the center position.
The strength of the defense will be in the front seven. Jaylen Caldwell and Jemario Gary return at linebacker. The defensive line will have returners Quahiem Glasgow and Zycorrian Dewalt.