While they ended last season in different places, the Irmo Yellow Jackets and Dutch Fork Silver Foxes are not so far apart as the 2014 preseason began.
Friday was the first day of practice for S.C. High School League teams.
At Irmo, the Yellow Jackets had renewed focus in their first practice under new coach Reggie Kennedy. Irmo is rebuilding after finishing 2013 with a 6-6 record and a first-round playoff loss.
“I’m always big on building a foundation, and I think the foundation has been built here this summer,” Kennedy said. “So, now, the kids are looking forward to great things and having a great season,”
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Seven miles across town, the Silver Foxes are doing a different kind of rebuilding.
Unable to capitalize on the momentum from their 2013 Class 4A Division 1 championship campaign, Dutch Fork had a lot of ground to make up after an underwhelming offseason, coach Tom Knotts said.
“We keep trying to impress upon them that what got us to the top is hard work and great effort and commitment, and we’re still looking for that this preseason,” he said. “Right now, our commitment and our will to win are not as strong as it was this time last year.
“We certainly can turn it around, though.”
With the graduation of quarterback Derek Olenchuk, the Silver Foxes look to senior Tate Fant.
So, while Kennedy works to establish his offense and defense and gets to know his players, Knotts is looking to build team leadership and pride.
“It starts with trust, first. I think the kids really do trust me, and they feel that I know what I’m doing, just from my past,” said Kennedy, who guided Sumter to a state championship appearance last season.
“We certainly can turn it around here in the preseason,” Knotts said. “The biggest thing is developing a group of senior leaders.”
The Silver Foxes will work to strengthen their passing offense to take pressure off running back Matt Colburn.
Both teams know they are working toward the same goal.
“We’re focusing on us right now, taking it one day at time,” Irmo senior linebacker Juwan Freeman said. “We are just trying to put ourselves in position to have a great season.”
Irmo receiver Manny Banks said, “I know they are over there working. But, I mean, I’m not harping on that. When we play them, we’ll be ready.”
The squads will meet Oct. 3 in their annual rivalry game, a match Irmo won 43-42 in overtime last season.