EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of previews of area high school football teams.
The Whale Branch Warriors are hoping to find quick answers to their questions as they maneuver their way through another tough schedule. A sense of uncertainty due to lack of experience has been looming in their locker room.
While most players feel certain they’ll reach the postseason again, they want to be sure the underclassmen are comfortable in their role.
“We know we are going to start out kind of slow being the underdogs,” running back Irvin Mulligan said. “We play a lot of good teams early on, but once October comes we’ll start picking things up. We have some young guys that are still learning.
“They will be underdogs for a while, so they’ll have to learn how to adapt to the pace of the game.”
The defensive line, in particular, will have to learn to play together. Head coach Jerry Hatcher said the players in that group need to get their feet wet before they play well as a unit.
“We are young on the defensive line,” he said. “Two of them were starters, so we have to replace the entire defensive line. We go over everything in practice, but sometimes when they get in the heat of the moment, they go back to doing what works for them.”
A short depth chart also will be a factor. Whale Branch’s enrollment is just under 500, leaving it with a smaller roster than many teams on its schedule.
“There are other schools that have kids that only play on the offensive line and defensive line where our guys never get off the field,” Hatcher said. “They go back and forth. Our guys are exhausted and cramping, and the other team is still fresh.”
Although there are a few question marks on the defensive side, the Warriors’ offense looks solid.
Last season, Mulligan terrorized defenders, scoring 25 touchdowns and rushing for 1,700 yards. His success is attributed to his offseason workout regimen and teammates who all worked tirelessly throughout the summer.
“I do push-ups and sit-ups around the house, but we as a team get out their on our own and do 7-on-7s, footwork drills or we’ll go to the gym,” Mulligan said. “That keeps us focused, in shape and out of trouble. When we come back for football, it’s not that hard for us to back into the swing of things.”
Like Mulligan, Jamel Moultrie is no slouch on the gridiron. In his final year in a Whale Branch jersey, the wideout doesn’t want to have any regrets. He knows it’s his time to step up and lead by example.
“The receivers have been working hard,” Moultrie said. “We’ve been working on route running, blocking, and I think we’re doing pretty good right now. At the end of the game, I want to win. When the buzzer goes off, I want to be the one that won.”
Quarterback Marion Smalls will make his return to the field in the season opener against Hilton Head Island on Aug. 25. He suffered a pair of injuries last season and it may take some time before he is comfortable under center again.
“He was raised around football,” Hatcher said. “His father is a football coach. He can throw the football and he’s actually a pretty good runner. He’s a good passer, he’s strong and he carries a high GPA in the classroom.
“He’s one of the kids we lost last year playing catch. He was out eight to nine weeks and then he broke his wrist in the last game of the season.”
Hatcher believes in his players and is optimistic his team will pull together another winning season.
“We’ve been a playoff team for the last three years,” he said. “We’ve been the region runner-up twice, and we’ve also won the region. We have high expectations.
“We expect to win the region and we expect to be in the playoffs.”
Whale Branch Warriors
- Region: 6-2A
- Coach: Jerry Hatcher (sixth year, 34-31 overall)
- 2016 record: 7-5
- Playoffs: Lost to Carvers Bay in the second round.
- Best-case scenario: This year’s team will be tested primarily on defense. If the line can hold its own in the trenches, the Warriors could vie for another region championship. But a slow learning curve could set them back.
- Marion Smalls — QB
- Anthony McVay — OL
- Carus Epps — OL
- CJ Brown — DB
- Jaheem Hazel — DB
- Jordan Reeves — DB
- Aug. 25: Hilton Head Island
- Sept. 1: May River
- Sept. 8: Beaufort
- Sept. 15: at Battery Creek
- Sept. 22: at Bluffton
- Sept. 29: at Woodland
- Oct. 6: North Charleston
- Oct. 20: Garrett Academy Tech