Officially, Lower Richland went into the books as a 0-11 team in Darryl Page’s first season.
In reality, the long-suffering Diamond Hornets showed signs of life under the former Wilson boss. LR won four of seven games on the field, including a 26-21 upset of 9-1 Blue Ridge in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
It was the first postseason win by Lower Richland in 17 years.
But the wins were reversed when it was discovered the team inadvertently had an ineligible player on the roster.
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“On paper we were 0-11, but in our minds we made some big steps forward last year,” said Page. “Sure, we’ll use the situation as a motivating factor. Our kids are hungry and they are winners in their own minds. We expect to be a factor this season.”
The Diamond Hornets are benefiting from having Page in charge for a full year.
“I came in late last season and we had a lot going on early in the season,” he said. “I was trying to learn about the kids, and they were learning what I was all about. Plus, we were changing from a Wing T to a spread team. It took some time, but eventually we all got on the same page and the results were there on the field.
“I’ve had my own batteries recharged being around these athletic, motivated kids for a whole year.”
Lower Richland had five seniors sign scholarships, including Marcus Edmond at Clemson, but graduation losses were minimal. Page welcomes back 15 starters.
There are two areas of concern — quarterback and the defensive secondary.
Senior Heath Gilmore and junior Howard Henderson are dueling at quarterback. Gilmore ran for 500 yards and six touchdowns at tailback, and started the final two games of the season, including the playoff game at quarterback in place of the injured Edmond. Henderson had 658 passing yards and five scoring tosses at Dreher last season.
Page said both will play and he might use a platoon system at times.
The secondary has no returning fulltime starters. Senior safety Paxton Simpson is the most experienced player of the group.
LR’s strength will be on the offensive and defensive lines.
Guards Kevin Anderson (6-foot, 250 pounds) and Samuel Sabb (6-0, 280), and tackles Tre Goodwin (6-4, 255) and Xeric Graves (6-0, 240) are the foundation of a potentially outstanding offensive line.
Seniors Khalil Suber (6-1, 245) and Jaquan Keels (6-1, 225) are the interior anchors on the defensive front, but Page is excited about the potential of junior defensive ends Rayson Thomas (6-3, 190) and Danien Graves (6-2, 210).
Senior Lawrence Tucker, who rang up 113 tackles last season, is the veteran lead at linebacker.
The receiving corps is another plus with the return of all-region picks Devanta Hampton (31 catches, 676 yards, 5 TDs) and Jontrai Jackson (27-624-5).