Despite finishing the regular season in the red, Blythewood salvaged its first season under Reggie Kennedy with an unlikely run to the Class 4A Division I semifinals that began with a stunning upset of Lexington and netted a final 7-7 grade.
“It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,” mused Kennedy, who is entering his 18th season as a head coach in South Carolina.
“We got healthier at the end of the regular season and the kids began to have a better understand what we’d been asking of them. We played our best football there in the playoffs, which is what you always want.”
This season, Kennedy hopes the Bengals don’t take quite so long to define themselves as a team.
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“The coaches are familiar with the kids and the kids are familiar with us,” said Kennedy. “There is no transition. The commitment to compete to win is there. They’ve worked hard in the off-season. I’m anxious to see what this team can do.”
With 42 seniors in tow, the time is now for Blythewood, which will begin dealing with the effects of the opening of neighboring Westwood in 2013.
“We don’t take a hit in numbers on the varsity this year; that’s coming next year,” said Kennedy. “We won’t have another senior class this big in a while so we need to take advantage of it.”
The irony is Blythewood does not return a large group of starters.
The veteran players back on defense are cornerback Earl Wilson and linebackers Derek Miller and Jalen Williams.
Kennedy believes the secondary could be very good with the additions of Erik Holliday, a move-in from Alabama, and Devin Albert, who will be a prime running back in addition to taking a regular turn at a safety spot.
The big question is up front where new, unproven players abound. Kennedy said sophomore Terrell Vaughn (5-foot-11, 220) has a chance to be an impact player.
On offense, three-year stating center Josh Cannella (5-11, 251) and senior tackle Niles Carter headline a veteran line. The top skill players are receiver Shyheim Wilson and Albert.
Kennedy is banking on newcomer Kylin Binn (6-5, 210) to take over for the productive Demetic Gray at quarterback. Binn, a transfer from Spring Valley, has not played in a game for two years.
“He’s got the tools, but not the experience right now,” said Kennedy. “He has to get comfortable playing under the lights on Friday nights.”
If Binn falters, seniors Joe Britt and Travis Palmer are waiting in the wings. Britt was the varsity backup last season, while Palmer led the junior varsity to a 9-1 season.
Fleet junior receiver Lynard Jamison is a new player to watch. Kennedy is also eager to utilize Hank Estep (6-2, 205) at tight end.
The kicking game is no concern with the return of Greg Huegel, who was 9-for-15 in field goals, perfect on 26 PAT attempts and averaged 33.5 yards per punt.