Brad Meccariello always heard coaches mumbling to each other last season about Hilton Head Christian Academy's hulking offensive line.
"I've heard coaches say that last year wasn't normal, having a line like that for our school," the Eagles running back said.
Indeed, the Hilton Head Christian line was anything but "normal." The numbers suggested as much.
The Eagles rolled their way to a 13-0 record and another SCISAA state championship last year, and they did it behind their veteran-laden line. Hilton Head Christian trotted out a trio of four-year starters in the trenches, two of which are continuing their game at the next level.
"A lot of people don't realize it, but last year wasn't really a normal, typical line for 2-A SCISAA football," linebacker Clay Oliver said.
The Eagles are preparing for a more traditional SCISAA line this year, as Hilton Head Christian must replace four starters along the trenches heading into the 2012 season. Kyle Weaver is on a football scholarship at The Citadel while Cole Malphrus is at Wheaton College in Minnesota. Cory Cheadle, meanwhile, is a preferred walk-on at Kansas State, and Nick Borghi is attending school at Clemson.
The quartet averaged a height of 6-foot-1 and a weight of 257.5 pounds. Take the undersized Borghi out of the equation -- the senior stood a measly 5-10 and weighed a paltry 235 -- and his Eagles teammates averaged out to 6-2, 265.
"That was heaven for us," Meccariello said. "That was awesome. When they would get on the sled, they would push that thing like it was nothing.
"Now we've got some young guys that are going to have to learn a lot. They're not as big and they're not as strong."
Oliver, at least for now, has drawn the task of helping replace that line. The senior -- who has led the Eagles in tackles in each of the past two seasons -- began the preseason at right tackle in addition to his duties at linebacker.
The two-way player knows his team likely won't be as dominant in the trenches, but that isn't stopping him from backing off his predictions for the immediate future.
"I think we can make it to states again," he said. "It's going to be a lot harder, though, without a lot of our lineman. ... We can get better and better each day. We just have to work hard on the line."
But if Tommy Lewis has his way, Oliver won't see much time on the line. The Eagles coach wants his linebacker to focus on one position, but to do that he and the rest of the Hilton Head Christian coaching staff must find viable replacements.
It's an issue that has yet to be settled across the board, as only center Ben Warner and guard Robert Campos had nailed down their positions early in camp. Should Oliver stick to linebacker, the Eagles must find three more replacements to start in front of quarterback Caleb Lewis.
"We're not unrealistic to think that they're going to replace four college-bound guys," Lewis said. "But at the same time, the game of football is won in the trenches. We need them to do the things we're asking them to do.
"We're not asking them to overpower anybody, but we do need them to get in some people's way."
If Lewis' line can actually do what the coaches are asking, the Eagles may be in store for another big season. Hilton Head Christian has appeared in five of the last six state championship games, taking home three of those titles as its own. The expectations aren't any different this time around.
"We're still going to build on that and work harder," tailback Tyler Chisholm said. "We have high goals for ourselves to play at the highest level as a team. We like to push ourselves."
And those that are pushing themselves the most? There's no need to look beyond the Eagles' trenches for that answer.
"This year is definitely a year that people could say we aren't going to be good because of the guys that we lost," Oliver said. "But I think it's motivation for all of us. We're all thinking the same thing.
"We can prove people wrong."
Stadium: Eagles Field
Region: SCISAA Region 2-AA
Coach (years at school): Tommy Lewis (100-46, 10th year)
2011 results: 13-0, beat Thomas Sumter in the Class 2-A state championship game
Key losses: WR/DB Alex Martin, TE/LB Devan Fitzhugh, TE/LB Zach Reynolds, OL/DL Kyle Weaver, OL/DL Cole Malphrus, OL/DL Nick Borghi, OL/DL Cory Cheadle
Top returning starters: LB/OL Clay Oliver, WR/DB J.D. Reichel, QB/DB Brad Meccariello, RB/DB Tyler Chisholm, RB/DB Jamario Williams, QB Caleb Lewis
Key newcomers: RB/SS Nick Pirozzi, WR/DB DeAngelo Clark
Date Opponent W/L Score
Aug. 19 ALLENDALE-FAIRFAX W Forfeit
Sept. 2 at Florence Christian W 35-22
Sept. 9 at First Baptist W 15-0
Sept. 16 THOMAS SUMTER W 21-20
Sept. 23 AUGUSTA CHRISTIAN W 21-7
Sept. 30 ST ANDREW'S W 39-0
Oct. 7 at Palmetto Christian W 56-16
Oct. 14 at Northwood Academy W 46-14
Oct. 21 at Thomas Heyward W 35-26
Oct. 28 HILTON HEAD PREP W 33-7
Nov. 4 CALHOUN ACADEMY* W 59-14
Nov. 11 WILLIAMBURG ACADEMY* W 41-14
Nov. 19 THOMAS SUMTER* W 35-21
HOME GAMES in CAPS *Playoff game
Aug. 17 HAMMOND 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 BIBLE BAPTIST 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Dorchester Academy
Sept. 14 at Northwood Academy* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 BETHESDA DAY SCHOOL 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Thomas Sumter 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Colleton Prep Academy 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 THOMAS HEYWARD* 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 PALMETTO CHRISTIAN ACADEMY* 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 at HILTON HEAD PREP* 4 p.m.
HOME GAME in CAPS *Region opponent
Players to watch
Offense: Tyler Chisholm, RB
Chisholm ran for 870 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago, but the senior will be without the services of last year's veteran offensive line. The tailback hopes his new line will bring similar success to he and the Eagles.
Defense: Clay Oliver, LB
Oliver, who has led the Eagles in tackles in each of the past two seasons, finished with 98 stops and nine tackles for loss last year. Coach Tommy Lewis hopes his senior mans only the linebacker position this time around, but the veteran might also be needed at right tackle thanks to the depletion of last season's senior-laden line.
Three keys to the season
2012 Roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Height Weight Class
2 Caleb Lewis QB/DB/P 6-3 210 Soph.
3 C.J. Evanofski DB/WR 5-10 170 Sr.
4 Zach McCutchen DB/WR 6-1 160 Jr.
7 Nick Pirozzi DB/RB 5-9 165 Jr.
8 Tyler Chisholm LB/RB/K/P 5-10 185 Sr.
10 Brandon Qualls DB/WR 5-11 165 Sr.
11 C.T. Davis DB/TE 6-2 165 Jr.
12 Zach Polk DB/WR 6-2 165 Jr.
13 J.D. Reichel DB/WR 5-11 165 Sr.
15 Brad Meccariello DB/WR/QB 5-11 185 Jr.
17 Jack Ennis DB/WR 6-0 160 Jr.
18 Alex Cooler DB/WR 5-10 160 Jr.
19 Ryan Barrett DB/WR 5-10 160 Soph.
21 Thomas Nienow DB/K 5-10 150 Jr.
22 DeAngelo Clark LB/WR 5-10 170 Soph.
24 Rasheed Dais DB/WR 5-10 140 Jr.
25 Will Minter DB/WR 6-1 155 Soph.
27 Jamario Williams DB/WR 6-1 180 Sr.
28 Grant McDaniel DB/WR 5-11 140 Sr.
50 Will McCutchen LB/OL 5-11 190 Sr.
52 Thomas Gloven DL/OL 5-9 180 Jr.
53 Hector Mendoza DL/OL/LB 6-0 180 Sr.
55 Robert Campos DL/OL 5-8 150 Sr.
56 Clay Oliver LB/OL 6-2 215 Sr.
57 Xavier Anderson DL/OL 5-10 200 Soph.
59 Mike Dillon LB/OL 6-2 195 Soph.
63 Reed Shindell DL/OL 6-1 230 Sr.
64 Ben Warner DL/OL 6-1 200 Soph.
65 Cameron Wilder DL/OL 5-11 190 Soph.
72 Mac Viljac DL/OL 5-9 170 Fr.
79 Reese Dolyniuk LB/OL 6-2 205 Jr.