HONEA PATH It has been five years since the Belton-Honea Path High School football program has added a region title to the trophy case.
Over the last three seasons, the Bears have come agonizingly close to capturing the Western 3A title, finishing second to Seneca, Wren and DW Daniel, respectively. The other two years, they finished third.
And while BHP is moving to Region I-AAAA, they will have their old rivals with them in the Lions and Hurricanes vying for the region title, along with Greenville and Pickens.
This year, head coach Russell Blackston will field a relatively young team, especially on defense, which allowed an average of 20 points per game last year.
Gone are top tacklers, linebackers Jaustin Davis and Brandon Geer and safeties, Jake Hilbert and Jake Cade, as well as No. 2 sacker, lineman Keenan Washington. Davis led the team in sacks with six.
Leading the defense this year are three-year starter, Akyah Miranda at cornerback, safety Quan Pruitt, defensive back Ellis Gardner, linebacker and state wrestling champion Eddie Smith, and lineman Austin Daniels.
We are going to have nine new faces starting on defense this year. We have guys that played last year, but in reserve roles. They are going to have to make that transition mentally to being guys that are counted on to make plays, he said.
This has been a fun group to coach.
Watch for senior Hunter Poulton at defensive end, senior Hunter Watson at linebacker and junior Dashon Stribling at corner.
On offense, which averaged 38.5 points per game last season, the key will be replacing the production of tailback Juwun Abney. The Hutchinson Community College signee led the team the past two seasons in rushing, amassing 2,645 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The BHP staff wont have to look far, with senior ORyan Warren looking to make the jump from supplementing Abney last season to being the workhorse. Over the last two seasons in a reserve role Warren has rushed for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Also returning is senior quarterback Kameron Burton, who paired 959 yards and eight touchdowns through the air with 635 yards and 10 scores on the ground.
Anytime you get an experienced quarterback back it is big. Kameron has worked hard and brings versatility to the position, Blackston said.
Burton said this years team has a strong work ethic, despite the youth.
Our returning starters are leading by example and helping the young ones out, he said. I feel like we have a chance to have a really good season.
While the running game looks to be in good hands, the passing game faces question marks after losing five of last seasons six top receivers in Nick Wood, Cade, Hilberts, Michael Starks and current Furman Paladin Evan Vaughn.
Returning to lead the group is sophomore Xavier Nance, who caught 17 balls for 169 yards and three scores. He is joined by Miranda, who caught nine balls for 90 yards last year.
Blackston said, though, everything starts with the offensive line, pointing to seniors Rozarry Davis and Mooky Turner.
With those two we have a bunch of sophomores. They have to grow up quick, and Im excited to see them progress, Blackston said.