SCISAA football teams kicking off practice today

ccox@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2012 

Tommy Lewis and his Hilton Head Christian Academy football team do not want to spend much time this preseason reminiscing on previous accomplishments.

It's the same, tired clichè most coaches trot out this time of year. Yet it rings especially true for the Eagles, who have appeared in five of the last six state championships while claiming three of them as their own.

"You have to find that balance," Lewis said. "Obviously, we want to embrace and build on the success we've had as we look back. (Our accomplishments are) something we want to make our kids very aware of.

"At the same time, we need to have a short memory."

The next two days likely won't leave much time for Hilton Head Christian to rest on its laurels, considering the Eagles travel to Parris Island to open up fall drills. Lewis and Co. will be escorted by a U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor as they couple practice with time spent in a weapons simulator, a trip through an obstacle course and a viewing of a mixed martial arts demonstration, among other planned events.

"I think they have a really, really neat two days for us besides allowing us to come out there to practice football," Lewis said. "I think it'll be a great team-building experience."

Local SCISAA counterparts Thomas Heyward Academy, Hilton Head Prep and Beaufort Academy also begin practice today.

Add Nic Shuford to the list of coaches who don't plan on living in the past. The Thomas Heyward coach guided his team to a 9-2 mark and a berth in the state semifinal last season, but that means little to this year's crop of Rebels.

"I want our seniors now to remember what that felt like last year at the end of that game," Shuford recalled. " ... That's not necessarily how you want to end your high school career. So we'll keep that in the backs of their heads. But it's a new year, new team. We're moving forward."

The Eagles and Rebels are similar in more ways besides their mental approach to preseason drills. Both teams return most of their skill position players from a season ago but are each looking to replace a bevy of starters along the offensive line.

Shuford said the Rebels lost "six or seven" starters in the trenches while the Eagles must find a way to replace departed standouts Kyle Weaver, Cole Malphrus and Nick Borghi.

"Losing all those guys in one class, that'll be our biggest task," Lewis said. "(We will) bring together the offensive and defensive line to replace those guys."

Changes are also in store at Hilton Head Prep, where Kevin Wald begins his first season as coach of the Dolphins. Wald, who was hired just over a month ago, said he is looking forward to laying the groundwork with a strong 10th grade class.

"I'm ready to get going with those guys," he said. "We've got to start somewhere and build a foundation. My vision of building the total program -- we've just got to get started."

Any initial success may depend on the arm of senior quarterback Charlie Wilmot, who will get the first looks heading into camp.

"I think he's poised to have a good year," Wald said. "He's been here every day working out. I'm excited about him and, really, everything he accomplishes this year, he'll have earned it."

Prep isn't the only area program that will be starting relatively fresh this year, as Beaufort Academy and coach Wheatley Alford hope to rebound from a disappointing campaign in 2011.

"At Beaufort Academy, we've never had the luxury of reloading," Alford said. "We're always in a rebuilding mode. This year isn't any different than any years gone by. There'll be some players where we're going to have to really drop back to the very basics."

Unlike his counterparts at Hilton Head Christian and Thomas Heyward, Alford's team will bring experience on both sides of the line for the first time in his five years, he said. But inexperience at wide receiver and running back will force the Eagles to rely mostly on the arm of senior quarterback Gibson Achurch, who Alford called "the shining light" of the Eagles' offense.

"We're going to try and be as balanced as possible, but truthfully I just don't think we have enough players with experience in the running game to really be a big factor," Alford said. So we're going to throw the ball around, we're going to chuck it, we're going to get out the way and hopefully score some points."

Today's SCISAA football practice schedule:

Beaufort Academy -- 5:30-8 p.m.

Hilton Head Christian Academy -- 8-10:30 a.m.; 5-7:30 p.m.

Hilton Head Prep -- 8-10 a.m.; 6-8 p.m.

Thomas Heyward Academy -- 8:30-10:30 a.m.; 6:30-8:30 p.m.

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