For the first time in seven years, the Hammond Skyhawks enter a football season as hunters, not the hunted.
The Skyhawks posted another glowing record under coach Erik Kimrey, winning 12 of 14 games. It was the seventh consecutive season of double-digit wins for Hammond. Kimrey won its 100th game at the school in his ninth season, which made him the fastest coach in South Carolina history to reach the century mark.
But the team failed to win its seventh consecutive SCISA Class 3A championship, losing to Augusta Christian in the title game after falling to the Lions at home during the regular season.
“We’re not treating this season any differently than we have any others in the past,” Kimrey said. “As coaches, we always reassess ourselves and the program during every off-season. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to inspire and prepare our players.
“As cliché as it sounds, we take every practice, every game and every season on its own with the idea that getting better day-by-day, week-by-week, season-to-season leads to success regardless of wins and losses.”
Despite a significant graduation hit, Kimrey is hopeful the bottom line won’t be significantly different.
“We certainly may be playing more guys with less experience than we have in a long time, but we’ve got a nucleus of talented players with experience coming back, especially on the perimeter,” he said.
“On one hand I think you can say that we’re cautiously optimistic, but then again we don’t have a clue until we see how the young, inexperienced guys perform.”
The veteran core features senior tight end Cannon Smith (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), offensive linemen Patrick Kneece (6-3, 245), Donald Fawcett (5-11, 220) and Calhoun McDougall (5-10, 220), wide receivers Doak Fisher, Garrett Ayers and Cantey Heath, defensive linemen DeAndre Lee-Smith (6-3, 200) and Jordan Cox (6-1, 225), linebacker Wells Mealing and kicker Billy Horst.
Smith is the headliner. He turned down numerous offers (including Alabama) to commit early to Clemson.
The biggest concern is lack of experience on defense. With Mealing on the shelf with a back injury, Hammond will open with an all-new cast at linebacker and in the secondary.
Newcomers to watch include sophomore running back T.J. Brady, senior transfer receiver Max Woodburn, sophomore linebacker Malik Bennett and freshman cornerback Corey Riley.
The situation at quarterback is interesting. Junior Nick Garrett, who played last year behind Jake Nidiffer, is an excellent runner. Senior Davis King, the grandson of Steve Spurrier, is a left-handed pocket passer who started every game for first-year Westwood last season before transferring to Hammond in January.
Kimrey plans to use both quarterbacks throughout the season.