Whale Branch High School football players entered their stadium in uniform for the first time last week, clanging the aluminum bleachers as they positioned themselves for a team picture.
The picture was one of many firsts for the first-year program. The Warriors will play their first game Friday when they play host to Baptist Hill. Someone will make the program's first tackle, first run play, perhaps catch the first pass and maybe score the first points.
"I always think about that," linebacker Trey Nelson said. "We are the first team ever to put on these jerseys."
With the first-year status comes the expectation from those outside the team that the Warriors will struggle, players said. They say doubters, whether real or perceived, are not giving the team a chance to succeed.
Players believe they changed outsiders' attitudes with their performance during last week's Beaufort County football scrimmage at Battery Creek High School. The Warriors' two-quarter rumble with Ridgeland was more for work than a win. That was only half a game, Whale Branch coach Rob D'Amato reminded his team following its 7-0 victory.
But it was a victory, in whatever form.
"No one thought we would win anything," Nelson said.
Ridgeland is one of Whale Branch's Region 5-A opponents. The teams meet Oct. 1 at Ridgeland in a game that will count. Nelson and fellow linebacker Andrew Byam said, by that time, the Warriors should have only improved.
Nelson and Byam are two of the reasons this team doesn't fully resemble a typical first-year program. The pair played together at Battery Creek in 2009. They have the game experience -- and from a bigger school. Quarterback Stedmon James and tailback Josh Fields were also Dolphins in 2009. Both started as sophomores for Battery Creek coach Carlos Cave.
And so the Warriors boast experience at some of their most key positions. The task for those with the most experience has been to bring along those not previously accustomed to high school football. Some Warriors came from Battery Creek but had not played football since recreation league.
"We're all going through this together," Byam said.
Among the adjustments made by those who previously played at Battery Creek has been answering to a new coaching staff and new offense. James led a spread offense at Battery Creek and since spring practice has been working to learn the "flexbone," Wing-T-style Warriors coaches employ. James now takes snaps from under center instead of from the shotgun. And in the backfield, there are a lot more moving parts.
Players had a period of adjustment when it came to learning where to line up on offense, but James said the offense has picked up the new system. He threw a 29-yard touchdown strike to Fields for the lone score of the Warriors' scrimmage with Ridgeland.
Among those who had to learn the new offense were Byam and Nelson, who play offense and special teams in addition to linebacker. Byam is a wingback and Nelson a fullback. Few Warriors are playing on just one unit.
"That's one of the adjustments you have to make playing for a (Class) A team," Nelson said.
Players say there has been little adjustment defensively from the base sets they were accustomed to running. Their focus has been getting everybody to the ball.
During the Ridgeland scrimmage, the Warriors forced and recovered three fumbles and got a fourth-down stop. D'Amato said he would need to watch the film before deciding whether the plays were worth praising or were more giveaways. The film, which players said they would watch this weekend or early this week, also might show missed assignments and missed tackles. But Byam said coaches might be more lenient knowing the defense was going all out.
And the victory, even in a scrimmage, didn't hurt -- a positive start to a history-making year.
"We were hitting them in the mouth," Nelson said. "I was proud of that."
Stadium: 169 Detour Road, Seabrook
Coach (years at school): Rob D'Amato (first year)
Coach's overall record: N/A
2009 record: N/A
Key losses: N/A
Top returners: N/A
(• denotes Region 5-A game)
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
Aug. 20 -- BAPTIST HILL, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 27 -- @ Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 3 -- MILITARY MAGNET, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 -- HARDEEVILLE*, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 -- ALLENDALE FAIRFAX*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 -- @ Ridgeland*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 8 -- BRANCHVILLE*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 15 -- @ Estill*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 -- @ Bethune-Bowman*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 29 -- @ Bamberg-Ehrhardt*, 7:30 p.m.
Rob D'Amato: "We know we're nowhere near where we're going to be, that's for sure. One thing we really want to try to do is get more physical. We're not a very physical football team."
THREE KEYS TO THE SEASON• Jell as a unit: Many factors work against a first-year program. Most of the Warriors know each other but not all have played football together. The chemistry needs to come together on both sides of the ball.
• Get physical: After watching his team early on, coach Rob D'Amato said the Warriors need to be more physical. And a day after scrimmaging Ridgeland, the Warriors spent the practice hitting each other.
• Shape up: Whether the Warriors can sustain their physical play will be determined by their conditioning. Class A numbers mean many will play offense, defense and special teams. The multiple roles could take their toll as the season progresses.
Players to watch
Offense: Stedmon James, QB -- James gives Whale Branch experience at a key position. He started at Battery Creek as sophomore last season, throwing for 1,621 yards and 17 touchdowns on 112 of 209 passing.
Defense: Andrew Byam, LB-- Byam, another former Battery Creek starter, earned praise from coaches for his smarts and knowing where everyone should be on the field.
1 Andrew Byam
2 Devonte Lykes
3 Dee Delaney
4 Chavonne Simmons
5 Frank Washington
6 Davon Mack
7 Stedmon James
8 Robert Evans
9 Trey Nelson
10 Parrish Magwood
11 Javon Gardner
12 Jay Abney
18 Jamelle Brown
20 J. Sanders
21 Trey Pringle
22 Alphanzo Hicks
23 Marquise Moultrie
24 John Little
25 Dimetrius Jones
27 JaCorey Wright
32 Charles Chiles
33 Harold Lawrence
34 Josh Fields
40 D. Wright
42 Adrian Byam
43 Demetrius Judge
45 Trey Brunson
50 Jay Delaney
51 Json Campbell
54 Mytae Jackson
55 Pop McKee
56 Howard Allen
57 Carl White
58 James Wright
60 Keith Henderson
62 Larry Albany
68 Emmanuel Wright
72 Donald Middleton
73 Max Ford
84 Deonne Lykes