A year ago Hilton Head Prep coach Kevin Wald was fighting to save the school's football program.
Today he's marveling at how bright its future looks after just one year at the helm.
"Last season we started day one with just 12 players and ended the season with 18," Wald said. "But we didn't come in and panic. I stuck to my principals and went about building the program."
Turns out that hard work is paying off sooner than many expected it would.
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Just one year into his rebuilding effort, the Dolphins head coach is riding a wave of momentum after last season's encouraging 5-5 record and with renewed excitement surrounding Hilton Head Prep football.
When the 2013 campaign begins Aug. 30 at home against Colleton Prep, Wald will have a 30-man roster at his disposal.
"I felt like if we had 25 kids it would be great. Thirty is a grand slam," Wald said. "The kids have come to really believe in what we are building here at Prep."
Gone is the negativity, low morale and poor turnout that surrounded the program when the second-year coach arrived last summer. In its place are excitement, energy and enthusiasm.
Returning tailback and linebacker Teron Daley said the new attitude around the football team and its success relative to expectations last year caused a lot of athletes from the school's other sports to take notice.
"A lot of guys saw what we were able to do last year with the odds stacked against us and wanted to be a part of it this year," the senior said.
So with momentum on their side and added depth to boot, the Dolphins look to improve upon their .500 campaign of last year while working toward contending in the challenging South Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Region 2-AA.
Prep lost only five players from last year's squad, and while their departure will be felt, there are several key returners prepared to lift their games this season.
Key among those is Daley, who rushed for just more than 750 yards last year in Prep's dynamic triple option attack. The 5-10, 170-pound back will get the bulk of the carries and his coach is expecting big things from his two-way star. Daley is also the leader of the defense from his linebacker post.
"If he stays healthy this year I can foresee anything less than 1,000 yards for him being a disappointment" Wald said.
While Daley will certainly be the offense's focus, Wald will have to replace quarterback Charlie Wilmot, who threw for more than 1,500 yards last year out of the option. The second-year coach is likely to turn to 2012 backup Tyler Fox.
Despite a minor knee injury that cost him some practice time a couple weeks ago, the sophomore was solid in summer camp as well as scrimmages and provides a dual threat to the Dolphins offense.
Fox will be backed up by fellow sophomore EJ Churchich, who has also looked good in practice and will see his share of action throughout the season.
"We're going to run Fox. If he's healthy we're going to run him a lot," Wald said. "So it's good to have two quarterbacks. EJ has done a good job getting the system down and learning what we're trying to do. He's really come into his own."
At receiver, Prep will rely on junior Noah Sulek to replace Logan Clark as the go-to guy in the passing game. The offensive line returns the majority of its starters and will be a strength of the team this year led by senior Logan Mallet.
The defense was hurt last year when senior leader Austin Baker went down early to injury at linebacker and struggled to stop the powerful offenses of Region 2-A. Wald, however, is expecting better things on the strong side of the ball this year, especially in the front seven.
The Dolphins return six of their seven top tacklers, and with their increased depth, Wald will be better positioned to spell key contributors and keep his defense fresh later in games.
"I think defensively we really have an opportunity to improve," he said. "There's a lot of experience back, and we have guys who have made a lot of plays so there's really an opportunity to take a step (forward) defensively."
Just as on offense, Daley is going to be the anchor of that Dolphin defense from his linebacker post. In fact, as talented as he is running the football, it's on defense where the senior is getting some attention from several small colleges in the region, according to Wald.
Given his speed and size, Daley is more apt to play in the defensive backfield but is playing linebacker at Prep because that's where his team needs him. As a junior, he tallied more than 100 tackles and helped Prep survive the loss of Baker a month into the season.
"We need his tackling skills up closer to the line," Wald said. "If you're leading tackler is in the secondary it means your defense is having a hard time stopping the ball."
For his part, Daley thrives on playing defense, and with a solid senior campaign may be playing defensive back in college this time next year.
"I just see the ball and fly to it to make the tackle," Daley said. "I'm just focused on improving every day and helping this team win games."
While few expected them to, Prep managed to do that five times last year,, and given the quick growth of his program, more wins are possible this season.
The sledding in the second year of Wald's rebuild won't be easy, however. The Dolphins will get tested right off the bat with a nonregion contest at home against Colleton Prep. Three weeks later, Prep plays its first of four region battles against Palmetto Christian at Dolphin Stadium.
The regular season closes on Halloween with Prep facing island rival and defending state champion Hilton Head Christian Academy.
The Dolphins failed to win a single game in its region last year, finishing 0-4. That has to change in 2013 if a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 is in the cards.
"Obviously you're looking to get better each week," Wald said. "Every game is important, but you want to be playing your best ball when you get into conference because if you don't win those games you don't have a chance of getting into the playoffs."
A break here and there and Prep will improve on the 5-5 campaign and perhaps realize that playoff berth.
One way or another, there's no denying the future is bright for the Dolphins and that's saying something considered the future of the program had no guarantees when Wald arrived a little more than a year ago.
Stadium: Dolphins Stadium
Region: SCISAA Region 2-AA
Coach: Kevin Wald (5-5, 2nd year)
2012 Results: 5-5, Missed playoffs
Key losses: QB Charlie Wilmot; WR/DB/K Logan Clark; OL/LB Tyler Orford; OL/DL Justin Kaiser; FB/LB Austin Baker;
Key Returners: QB/LB Tyler Fox; RB/LB Teron Daley; WR/RB/DB Noah Sulek; QB/LB EJ Churchich; OL/LB Logan Mallet
Key Newcomers: WR/DB Mac Orie; OL/DL Cole Frederick; OL/DL Cole Horner; K/WR/DB Waddy Brooks
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 COLLETON PREP 5 p.m.
Sept. 6 Laurence Manning 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 BIBLE BAPTIST 5 p.m.
Sept. 20 PALMETTO CHRISTIAN
Sept. 27 Northwood Academy
Oct. 4 Calhoun Academy 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 THOMAS HEYWARD
Oct. 18 King Academy 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 ST. ANDREWS 4 p.m.
Oct. 31 Hilton Head Christian
Home game in CAPS; *denotes region game
Date Opponent W/L Score
Aug. 24 Colleton Prep W 15-14
Aug. 31 LURENCE MANNING L 33-13
Sept. 7 Bible Baptist W 20-0
Sept. 14 Palmetto Christian Academy L 46-32
Sept. 21 NORTHWOOD ACADEMY L 41-13
Sept. 28 CALHOUN ACADEMY W 31-14
Oct. 5 Thomas Heyward Academy L 60-14
Oct. 12 KING'S ACADEMY W 61-0
OCT. 19 St. Andrew's W 35-14
Oct. 25 HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN L 38-7
HOME GAMES in CAPS
Players to Watch
Tyler Fox, QB
With Charlie Wilmot departed, the job of running Wald's option offense will likely fall to Tyler Fox, last year's backup as a freshman. Fox understands the offense and had a great summer camp before a knee injury cost him some early practice time. He'll be healthy week one for Prep's test against Colleton Prep, and the Dolphins will need his legs and arm to power that option attack all season.
Teron Daley, LB
As the team's leading rusher, Daley is certainly important to Prep's offense, but from his linebacker position he's absolutely critical to the team's hopes of improving on defense. In fact, according to Wald, Daley is being looked at by several small colleges in the region as a potential defensive back at the next level. The senior had 100 tackles last year.
Three keys to success
Run the ball effectively: Wald installed the triple option last year, and it paid immediate dividends. Daley was a big piece last year and will play an even bigger role this year. Wald predicts 1,000 yards for Daley this year and his senior tailback agrees. "That's a goal I've set for myself, Daley said"
Stop the Run: Prep had its struggles last year on defense but returns six of its top seven tacklers from the 2012 squad. With that experience and increased depth, Wald expects bigger things from his defense if they can keep opponents out of short-yardage situations on third down.
Stay Healthy: With as many as 10 more players on this year's team compared to last year, depth is improving for Prep; it's still not enough to withstand any serious rash of injuries. With the majority of its standouts playing both offense and defense, fitness will be a critical factor to staying healthy. A little luck can't hurt either. "We know it's not something we can control, but if you suffer a couple injuries to key players things can change in a hurry," Wald said.
2013 Roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Height Weight Class
3 Noah Sulek WR/DB/RB 6-0 170 Jr.
4 Andrew Spencer WR/DB/K 5-9 170 Sr.
5 Teron Daley RB/LB 5-10 170 Sr.
7 Zenon Parker WR/DB/RB 5-10 155 Jr.
8 Sean O'Connor WR/DB 6-0 175 Sr.
10 James Leonard WR/DB 5-10 170 Sr.
14 EJ Churchich QB/LB 5-8 150 Soph.
15 Archer Brooks WR/DB 6-1 170 Jr.
17 Waddy Brooks K/WR/DB 5-2 110 Fr.
19 Cole Gardocki WR/DE 6-3 170 Sr.
21 Dorsey Barker P/WR/DB 5-6 125 Fr.
22 Gavin Hurlbut RB/DL 5-8 140 Soph.
24 Mac Orie WR/DB 5-8 140 Fr.
25 Tyler Fox QB/LB 6-0 180 Soph.
44 Keylan Hanna WR/LB 5-10 165 Jr.
50 John Horner OL/DL 5-11 225 Fr.
55 Robert Clark OL/LB 5-10 205 Sr.
56 Zach June OL/DL 5-8 160 Soph.
57 Logan Mallett OL/LB 5-10 170 Sr.
58 Cole Frederick OL/DL 5-7 170 Fr.
63 Zane Braden OL/DL 6-1 180 Jr.
65 Trammy Colket OL/DE 6-2 145 Soph.
66 Adam Schauss OL/DL 6-1 215 Jr.
70 Riggs Anderson OL/DL 6-5 240 Soph.
75 Brayden Mitchell OL/DL 5-10 210 Sr.
81 John Larson WR/LB 6-1 185 Jr.
82 Shaun Topper TE/DE 6-1 188 Sr.
88 Zen Wiggans TE/DE 6-2 185 Sr.