Step back, briefly, from this second-year football team with aspirations of a deep playoff run and remember the beginning.
Before Whale Branch High School had completed its weight room, players flipped giant tires, swung two-by-fours and jumped up and down on bleachers. First-year coach Rob D'Amato was only just feeling his players out, and all he had to go on from the start was past reputation.
The initial report on linebacker and fullback Davon Mack was not favorable. News of discipline and academic issues followed him from Battery Creek, where he had played sparingly as a sophomore.
But D'Amato watched Mack flip those tires, swing wood and begin exhibiting leadership qualities over a young Warriors team. Mack took advantage of study halls and smaller class sizes to boost his grade point average. College is now the goal, where before there was no aim.
"I did a whole 180 turnaround," Mack said.
The Warriors' weight room was completed a few weeks into Whale Branch's inaugural season. This past spring, as a result of his work lifting, Mack received one of the purple bracelets coaches awarded to players for exhibiting good habits.
"Warriors football," the band reads. "My team."
D'Amato wants his players to take ownership of their team, as Mack has taken ownership of his future.
In Year 2, Whale Branch football can go as far as its players take it, D'Amato tells his team. A sign posted in the weight room bears the message: "11-25-11, Where will you be?"
The Class 1-A championship game will be played Nov. 25 at Benedict College.
"It's just exciting," D'Amato said. "The kids, they know it. We understand how explosive we can be."
With the exception of quarterback Stedmon James, who injured his knee during the spring and still faces weeks of recovery, the Warriors return every starter from the inaugural team that finished the regular season 5-5 and earned a playoff berth. Whale Branch will lean on a pair of transfers to help replace James. Junior quarterback Brandon Morton and senior wingback Andre Watson will each contribute immediately. Morton will be the starter, but D'Amato said Watson could also play quarterback.
Little else has changed. Running back Josh Fields, who scored twice during the Warriors' scrimmage with Battery Creek, will again provide a rushing and receiving threat out of the backfield.
On defense, Mack believes the Warriors boast one of the top linebacking corps in Beaufort County. Mack and Trey Nelson man the inside, and outside linebacker Andrew Byam was the team's leading tackler in 2010. The only question at this point, D'Amato said, is who will play the other outside spot, the rover position. Newcomer Shawn Burrage has filled the role to this point.
Mack is among the team's captains, as voted by his teammates after last season. He delivered a sack during last week's scrimmage at Beaufort High School before leaving with a bout of heat exhaustion.
Once the season starts, his breaks are expected to be few. D'Amato believes Mack is on track to graduate, attend college and play football. He said North Greenville has expressed interest and that Mack likes Savannah State University.
Weekly grade reports from teachers should help keep him on track, D'Amato said.
But before college, Mack has other goals, ones for himself and his teammates.
"I want to lead the team in tackles, be a good leader," Mack said. "That's about it, other than going to the 'ship."
Stadium: Warriors Field
Region: Region 5-A
Coach: Rob D'Amato (5-6, 2nd year)
2010 results: 5-6, lost to Hardeeville, 33-12, in first round of Class A playoffs
Key losses: None
Top returning starters: RB Josh Fields, LB/FB Trey Nelson, LB/FB Davon Mack, LB/RB Andrew Byam, DB/WR Dee Delaney
Key newcomers: QB Brandon Morton, WB/QB Andre Watson, FB/LB Shawn Burrage
Date Opponent W/L Score
Aug. 20 BAPTIST HILL W 26-14
Aug. 27 at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler W 30-28
Sept. 3 MILITARY MAGNET W 18-0
Sept. 17 HARDEEVILLE L 36-8
Sept. 24 ALLENDALE-FAIRFAX W 34-22
Oct. 1 at Ridgeland L 21-12
Oct. 8 BRANCHVILLE W 45-10
Oct. 15 at Estill L 52-24
Oct. 22 at Bethune-Bowman W 48-22
Oct. 29 at Bamberg-Ehrhardt L 53-8
Nov. 5 at Hardeeville* L 33-12
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 19 at Baptist Hill 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 Hunter-Kinard-Tyler 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Military Magnet 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Hardeeville* 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Allendale-Fairfax 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 RIDGELAND* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Branchville* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 ESTILL* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 BETHUNE-BOWMAN* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 BAMBERG-EHRHARDT* 7:30 p.m.
HOME GAMES IN CAPS *Region opponent
Players to watch
Josh Fields, RB: Fields is the Warriors' top returning offensive threat and will try to help Whale Branch overcome the loss of quarterback Stedmon James early in the season.
Andrew Byam, LB: The senior led the Warriors with 91.5 tackles last season, including a team-leading 3.5 sacks.
Three Keys to the Season
2011 roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Class
1 Andrew Byam RB/OLB Sr.
2 Josh Fields RB Sr.
3 Dee Delaney WR/DB Jr.
4 Chavonne Simmons WR/DB Soph.
5 Frank Washington WR/DB Sr.
6 Davon Mack FB/LB Sr.
7 Stedmon James QB Sr.
8 Bob Evans RB/DB Sr.
9 Trey Nelson RB/LB Jr.
10 Parish Magwood WR Sr.
11 Darian Brown WR/QB Fr.
12 Brandon Morton QB Jr.
14 Dequan Mulligan DB Sr.
15 Andre Watson RB/QB Sr.
17 Rasheed Dais WR/DB Soph
18 Johnathan Dominguez WR/DB Soph
20 Shawn Burrage FB/LB Jr.
21 Trey Pringle WR Sr.
22 Urian White WR/DB Fr.
24 John Little FB/CB Sr.
32 Tyrik Spicer TE/DE Jr.
34 Domanik Spicer TE/LB Jr.
35 Michael Dantzler FB/OLB Soph.
39 Harold Lawrence OL/DL Jr.
40 Junitor Haynes OLB Sr.
41 Devonte Simmons RB/LB Fr.
42 Hikeem Fields TE/DE Jr.
50 Jay Delaney OT/DL Jr.
51 Alec Corns OL/DL Fr.
54 Mytae Jackson LB/DL Sr.
55 Pop McKee OG/DT Jr.
56 Howard Allen OT/DE Jr.
58 Sam Jones OT/DE Jr.
60 Keith Henderson DT Sr.
61 Raquan Singleton OT/DE Fr.
65 Treyvon Bryan OT/DE Fr.
68 Emmanuel Wright OL/DL Jr.
72 Donald Middleton OG/DT Jr.
73 Max Ford C Soph.
75 Taylor Chesire TE/DE Soph.
76 Derreck Smith OL/DL Soph.
77 Prince Moses Israel OG/DT Soph.
79 Jarrod Sanders OLD/DL Sr.
80 Michael Smalls WR/DB Jr.
88 Juan Allen TE/DE Jr.
89 Maurkess Wright OL/DL Sr.