By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- Last year did not go the way Sherando had hoped it would. Injuries set the team back last year, especially a broken collarbone to quarterback/defensive back Reid Entsminger.
The team went only 6-5 on the season and suffered a first-round loss to Liberty in the playoffs. However, the Warriors lost only 13 players to graduation and this year's team is more motivated than ever to turn things around this season.
"Last year every practice was 100 percent, and that's what we've carried over from last year to this year -- is that effort in practice," Entsminger said. "But this year we've got better talent than last year, I think in certain areas that's going to help us out a lot. We just have to make the most of it, and our team chemistry is better than last year and last year's we were really close, too.
"This year I think our team's a lot better from a skill perspective, and effort-wise is 100 percent like it was last year. That's what last year's team taught us, and that's what we're bringing to the table this year."
The program is used to winning and coach Bill Hall said he was very pleased with the offseason his team had.
Entsminger, a senior, will be back to lead the Warriors on both offense and defense.
The Warriors' running game has always been strong and should be again this year.
Sherando lost tailback Taylor Loudan to graduation, but George Aston, who saw plenty of time in the backfield, will be back.
Hall said junior LeeQuan Johnson is up from the JV team and Killian McPartland and Isaiah Williams will all see playing time in the backfield along with Daniel Eppard at fullback. McPartland and his brother, Brogan, transferred from Handley.
The Warriors return three starters on the offensive line -- Matt Lowery, Dante Tibbs and Madison Edmunds -- all seniors. They will be joined by senior Seth Wagner and Christian Farris, a junior.
"Christian Farris played last year some and Seth Wagner played last year some," Hall said. "They've been in the heat of the battle, so the only difference is you label them as starters."
The battle at wide receiver is ongoing and Hall said they have eight different players vying for the spots. Junior Adam Whitacre is the only starter returning at wide receiver.
"He was an explosive player for us," Hall said of Whitacre. "He had a really good baseball season. He has a lot of confidence, can really stretch the field. He has good speed, has good ball skills."
Senior Tyler Hamilton returns at tight end, and Brogan McPartland could also see some playing time there.
The defense should once again be solid for the Warriors. While they will certainly miss defensive end Chris Smith, 6-foot-3, 235-pound Brogan McPartland should help fill that void.
Hamilton will also be back at defensive end, while Hall said the battle for the interior defensive line spots is still ongoing.
One spot that the Warriors feel really good about is linebacker.
Senior linebacker George Aston has led the team in tackles in back-to-back seasons. Senior Joe Daley returns at linebacker, and senior Daniel Eppard saw plenty of time there last year as well.
The defensive backfield will also be strength for the Warriors. Entsminger, Rhett Morris, Williams and Josh Ojo all started some last year. Whitacre also saw playing time and will help give them depth at the position.
Hall said he likes what he's seen of his team so far.
"I think they've laid the foundation so you can be successful," he said. "They've put that work in. I think one of the characteristics of this team is they're a hard-working group, which if you're going to have a characteristic that's a good one to have. They're a tight-knit group. I think they care about each other, and we're in that process now of making sure that we're all accountable to each other. To make sure that we all meet our standard of performance."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org