This might not be the fastest set of Beaufort Eagles that have graced the sideline in Mark Clifford’s 13 years at the school, but he certainly likes the direction it’s taking.
Though the Eagles might be considered undersized in the reconfigured Class 4A, opponents could have a tough time catching their three-headed rushing attack of Wyatt Sherpensky, Omar Cummings and Kyliek Middleton.
“The speed’s coming back. You can tell,” said Clifford, who has 16 starters returning in all. “We’ve got that good track program at Beaufort High and Ray Jones, our strength coach, is probably one of the best in the world.”
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Jones is probably better known for his work with weightlifting wunderkind C.J. Cummings — Omar’s brother.
“So our speed and strength is coming back,” said Clifford, whose squad bowed out in the first round of last year’s Class 3A playoffs to eventual Lower State champion Midland Valley. “We committed to it in January, and it’s showing now.”
Cummings and Sherpensky both topped 1,000 yards last year, with Cummings the power option and Sherpensky the speed guy. Middleton is faster than either of them.
The Eagles also have a veteran group up front, with four returning starters from last year’s starting five. Some of the pieces have been shuffled, most notably Dylan Williams filling the lone void at center, but the experience is there.
“We average 230 (pounds) on the line,” Clifford said, “which is kind of small, but they’re all back.”
What Clifford needs most is a quarterback. A four-way derby to replace Connor Gruel ensued well into the second week of fall workouts. Jeffrey Smyth, Clayton Ruff and Harrison Lane are in the mix, plus last year’s backup, Patrick Tallent.
“They all bring similar things to the table,” Clifford said. “Jeffrey Smyth probably runs a little bit better than Clayton and Harrison.”
The defense also is a veteran group, with JaQuan Simmons and William Coleman teaming on the inside and Garrett Lamar creating matchup problems at end. Tim Clark heads the linebacker pairing, and the secondary oozes more speed in cornerbacks Kameron Spann and Reggie Jones.
“All those guys have really worked hard all summer,” Clifford said. “Their experience is showing a lot there.”
REGION: Class 4A, Region 8
COACH: Mark Clifford (13th season, 94-52)
2015 RECORD: 5-6 (2-3 Region 8-3A)
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Midland Valley in Class 3A first round
KEY RETURNERS: RB Wyatt Sherpensky, RB Omar Cummings, WR Rome Wallace, OL Brice Adkins, DL JaQuan Simmons, LB Tim Clark, CB Kameron Spann
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Blessed with experience and speed to spare, the Eagles solve their QB riddle and dash through the first two months of the schedule. Two of Beaufort’s three toughest games figure to come at the end, with a potential showdown vs. Hilton Head for the region crown.
- Aug. 19: at Wando, 7:30 p.m.
- Aug. 26: at Battery Creek, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 2: at Bluffton, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 9: vs. Whale Branch, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 15: vs. May River, 7:30 p.m.
- Sept. 23: Open
- Sept. 30: vs. Stall, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 7: vs. Colleton County, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 14: at Berkeley, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 21: at Cane Bay, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 28: vs. Hilton Head, 7:30 p.m.