One would be hard pressed to find a football team other than Blythewood High more eager to move on from last season and focus on a new season this fall.
Saddled with probation and banned from the playoffs for violating S.C. High School League practice violations, the Bengals completed a 10-0 season on Oct. 25 by whipping Eau Claire 36-6.
Three days later, the underclassmen gathered to start rebuilding toward another championship, this time at a higher level.
“We’ll forget about that,” Blythewood defensive end Justin Anderson said. “As soon as we finished with Eau Claire, the next Monday we started working out, lifting weights and getting ready for Class 4A.”
Blythewood, a program that’s seen the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows over its two years of varsity competition, completes its spring practices today looking forward.
But not all the past is forgotten.
The Bengals will carry a 24-game winning streak, the state’s longest active streak, into the 2008 season. Included in that string is the 2006 Class 3A state championship.
When things got ragged on the practice field this week, Blythewood coach Geremy Saitz referenced that streak and the Bengals tradition of success to help motivate his team.
“We take pride in that,” Saitz said. “We know every week that teams are going to give us their best. That’s something you look forward to. We just want to work hard to continue that.”
The competition gets stiffer this season as the Bengals move up to Class 4A, where they’ll compete in Region 4 along with Spring Valley, Ridge View, Lancaster, Rock Hill and South Pointe.
But the best thing for the Bengals these days is that, unlike last fall, competing means a championship is on the line once again.
“Everything is in the past,” Saitz said. “That’s something we teach our kids is to persevere through hard times. What we’re going to do is move forward. That’s all we can do.”
Moving forward on the field is a challenge because the offense will be completely rebuilt.
Gone are star players such as quarterback Richard Mounce, wide receiver Marquan Jones, running back James Wilkerson and twin receivers Charles and Chris Wright, the mainstays who put Blythewood football on the map. Saitz is replacing 10 starters on offense.
The lone holdover is Will Ferrell, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound right tackle, who started as a sophomore last season.
“It’s not going to be the same without them here, obviously,” Ferrell said. “We have a lot of young guys stepping up and showing off at spring practice. It’s going to be a lot different, though. We’re going to be all right. We’re going to be good. We have some good running backs.”
Three players vying for playing time at quarterback this spring are Torrence Daniel, who will be a senior this fall, Evan Lanford, who will be a junior and Chris Baker, who will be a sophomore.
Saitz said running back C.J. Edwards, wide receiver Greg Cuthbertson and center Jonathan Mitchell are among the new projected starters who have played well this spring.
“I think our offensive guys will really surprise some people,” Saitz said. “I hope we will be a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger and a little bit tougher.”
Unlike past seasons at Blythewood, the defense has fewer question marks.
Anderson, a sought-after Division I prospect, anchors a talented and experienced defensive line. Also back are Curtis Hill, Tre Minor and John Lawhorn.
“We’ll be more a four-man front this year because d-line has been so impressive,” Saitz said.
The defensive backfield has solid athletes in Chris Maxwell, Demario Jordan and Jeremiah Griffin.
Saitz mentioned linebacker Duane Keesee as one he is counting on as well.
On special teams, kicker Aaron Mayes is back for his senior season. Mayes kicked the last-second field goal that gave the Bengals their state title when he was a sophomore. Steady long-snapper Collin Lennon remains consistent and the Bengals should get contributions from Jordan and Jeremy White in the return game.
Time will tell if the returning players and the eager newcomers can keep Blythewood’s winning streak going against stronger competition.
But the hunger is certainly there.
“That’s a big reason to keep us working hard,” Ferrell said. “We want to prove that we are still a dominant team.”
Reach Wiseman at (803) 771-8472.