Tuesday, August 12, 2014
• at Dreher 29-6 Loss
• at McCormick 32-20 Win
• at Branchville 42-7 Win
• vs. Augusta Christian 27-20 Win
• vs. Ridge Spring-Monetta 42-41 Win
• vs. Williston-Elko 27-7 Loss
• at North 52-18 Win
• vs. Wagener-Salley 38-6 Loss
• at Blackville-Hilda 39-13 Win
• at H-K-T 40-21 Loss
In eight seasons at the helm of the Fox Creek program, head coach Russ Schneider has turned the team into a contender in Class A football. He has had winning records in three of the past four seasons, and said the excitement around the program has never been higher.
Schneider said the team has all the tools in place to keep the Predators at that high level. The enthusiastic athletes combined with what he considers a star-studded coaching staff, which he likened to having “Palmer, Nicklaus and Trevino walking up at The Masters.”
What the staff and players hope to do is reach the level of success of last season, but with a slightly different ending.
“This is a passionate group of guys, They’re dedicated and disciplined. I think it will show this year,” Schneider said.
2013 in review
Fox Creek did what it had to do for a majority of the season; it found ways to win games. There were blowout victories, a double-overtime victory over region foe Ridge Spring-Monetta and the programs first win in the annual “Battle for the Paddle” rivalry game. That culminated in a winning record and the turnaround the team was looking for after going 2-8 in the 2012 campaign. However, the Predators were dealt a rough blow as the season wrapped up.
Fox Creek escaped Region 4-A with a 3-3 record and an overall record of 6-4, but winning records don’t always get the job done in Class A football in South Carolina. The third winning season in program history ended abruptly, as the Predators found themselves on the outside looking in when the playoff matchups were announced for the 2013 Class A, Division I bracket. Fox Creek’s fourth-place finish in a strong region wasn’t good enough because of the points system employed to decide playoff teams.
During the offseason Schneider spoke about using the experience in a positive way as the team tries to record back-to-back winning season for the second time in school history.
The Predators had a wealth of running backs in the back field last season, but a good portion of the rushers will not be returning. Dalton Swires will be back for the Predators, though. He averaged 6 yards per carry and finished the season with 350 yards and six touchdowns. Schneider said Swires is likely to get the majority of the carries out of the backfield this season with Williams and Ikel El gone. The junior has put on weight and added muscle to aid in his physical running style.
Corey Lucas was one of the area’s leading tacklers, and is expected to produce at the same level this season. He has developed as on of the leaders of the team and looks to be in great shape heading into the 2014 season.
After losing 17 seniors there’s plenty of room for some of the lesser known players to make a name for themselves this season.
The offense will feature the highest profile new faces in some key places. Most notably Caleb Charlton will take over for Deondre Baskett at quarterback. Schneider characterized the sophomore as a talented quarterback who has the ability to run the ball well. Charlton will be the youngest starting quarterback the Predators have sent out as the starter according to Schneider.
In regard to Charlton and some of the other young players, the head coach said his biggest worry will be how they react in the first pressure situation.
“The biggest thing is the inexperience. Some of them don’t have the game experience,” he said. “That’s probably every coach’s fear at the beginning of the season when a team hasn’t really played together. At some point you’re going to have adversity in the season.”
Games to watch
On Sept. 9, the Predators will get a chance to make it back-to-back wins over Augusta Christian. The battle along the line in the rivalry game will be big. The Lions boast 6-foot-5 300-pound, Clemson commit in Zach Giella and 6-9 250-pound Calvin Taylor.
The team visits Ridge Spring-Monetta to open region play on Oct. 3. The Trojans are the only team to make the jump with Fox Creek from Region 4-A to Region 1-A. Schneider said he has a lot of respect for what Heath Corley has done with the Ridge Spring-Monetta program, and he knows it will be a tough game. The game against the familiar foe is followed by a non-region matchup with Ware Shoals. It will be the first time the Predators and Fighting Hornets have met. Ware Shoals has made the Class A Division I playoffs each of the last two seasons, and even knocked off Williston-Elko en route to an improbable appearance in the upper state title game in 2012. The game will feature another interesting matchup for the Predators. Ware Shoals defensive end Jacob Nelson has received interest from several schools in the state, and at 6-foot-2 235 pounds, the Predators will have to game plan to stop him from wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield.
“Moving regions is new. I feel like everybody in the new region has a shot of winning the region,” Schneider said after pointing out Williston-Elko’s stranglehold on the former Region 4 top spot. “Before, you kind of knew Williston was the powerhouse, and now, we’re going in not really knowing. It may be somebody else. We feel we at least have a shot to contend.”
The Predators will have a new offensive coordinator this season. Wesley Brown stepped away from coaching football and will be replaced by Mickey Derrick. The former Greenbrier High School and Evans High School head coach actually gave Schneider his first coaching job years ago. Schneider said he has a holds Derrick’s knowledge of the game in high regard.
With the addition of Derrick and a new quarterback will come a bit more veer option in the playbook this season. Schneider feels he has the weapons to make it successful. It’s not only the Swires and rushers like K.J. Green that have Schneider excited. The line will be lead by Bryan Hurt, who was praised for his energy.
“He loves to pull,” Schneider said. “He looks like a running back when he’s pulling. He outruns our backs sometimes.”
Not to be overlooked, Kaelean Brown and Malik Hightower are a pair of dangerous receivers. Brown will also be serving as the backup quarterback for the Predators.
Hurt and Swires will also be a big part of the Predators defensive scheme. The team plans to run a 4-2-5 defense this season.
“Those guys are physical and have experience. We’re going to need it out there,” Schneider said.
At the current time, Gavin Snipes is in line to handle the punting and place kicking. The Predators do have sophomore Michael Ray right behind him.
Swires and Hightower will also handle the kick and punt return duties.
The goal for Fox Creek is to improve once again. After increasing the win total by four games last season, Schneider is hoping for another jump this year.
“Of course we want to do better than the year before every year,” he said. “They’re young, but they’re a scrappy group. As far as getting after it, this is probably the most coachable group we’ve had.”
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard.