In order for Indian Land coach Mike Mayer to explain where he wants his 2014 Warriors football team to go, he first had to give them a history lesson on where the school has been.
“(In) ’03, ’05, ’09 we’ve had some good teams,” Mayer said. “But we also talked about the history of the school. Even kind of as a school project with the principal, we’re trying to do a history wall in the front entrance.”
The 2005 team went 11-2. Also, Mayer wanted his players to know that like some other local teams, Indian Land has produced its fair share of talent.
“Just like Rock Hill and Northwestern talk about state championships and this player and that player, we get to point out that Kamaal McIlwain was playing in the Hall of Fame game last night (Sunday night for the Buffalo Bills),” Mayer said. “So we’ve got one in the NFL like everybody else now.”
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Of course Indian Land also produced Shawn Crawford, who was a three-time national champion sprinter at Clemson and a gold medal winner in the 200 meters at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Crawford also played football for the Warriors.
With that groundwork laid, Mayer described what he has in the 2014 version of the Indian Land Warriors. Last year’s team finished 2-8 with an 18-5 loss at Columbia in the 2A playoffs’ first round. Mayer wants to shift to more of a power running game this season.
“We couldn’t run the ball well last year we’re going to run the ball better,” Mayer said. “And we’ve got big backs. We don’t have a lot of team speed but we’ve got some big backs, strong kids. Returning three starters on the offensive line, a lot of juniors who had a good year as sophomores and JV linemen. Last year we were really young on OL and DL and hopefully that’s going to pay dividends this year because we got smashed in the face at times last year.”
One of those big backs is leading returning rusher Austin Gordon, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior. He seemed to be salivating at the thought of pounding the rock in a power running game.
“Yessir, that’s exactly what I want to do,” Gordon said politely, but with a gleam in his eye.
Gordon exhibited some of that power and desire in practice as he pummeled helpless teammates in blocking drills. He should have some help up front; Jacob Williams, Dakota Brigman, and Nick Keyser are the three starters back on the offensive line.
As far as the trigger-man for the offense, the Warriors will be breaking in a new quarterback. Junior Dillon Mackey and sophomore Logan Teeter are battling it out to see who will be the starter.
“Both of them are good kids, hard workers, good leaders,” Mayer said. “That’s probably going to be a battle that goes right up until the first game.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the two leading tacklers from last year’s defense are Trevor Martin and Chris Blakeney, both of whom are juniors. Mayer said senior Derian Gueldner is the team’s best defensive back right now and fellow senior Charles Turner is somebody who has emerged as a safety during the summer.
“Through the 7-on-7s we’ve looked real good on defense, but we’ll see how we tackle on Fridays,” Mayer said. We’re looking for depth; not one of the faster teams we’ve had.
“Somebody asked at Jersey Mike’s how we were going to be and I said ‘well if we play in the Big Ten we’re gonna be okay, but if we play in the SEC we’re in trouble, as far as team speed.’”
The kicking game is in good hands, or feet.
“Shea Rodgers is handling the kicking duties for a fourth year,” Mayer said. “He’s one of the best in the state, I think. He’s definitely going to be a scoring weapon on offense and somebody that can change field position when we punt. He averages over 41 (yards per kick) on a punt for the last three years.”
Rodgers is confident as well.
“My longest in a game is 42 and my longest punt is 60,” said the blonde-haired Rodgers. “But coach Mayer said if we get close to the 40, he might let me take a crack at a 50.”
He added he felt he can make it.
“Coach Mayer says the punt is the most important play of the game,” Rodgers said. “If I can hit a bomb, that can change the outcome of the game.”
As far as his history lesson goes, the coach feels his team will have improved.
“How much difference does a year make?” Mayer said. “We’ve matured physically. How much have we matured mentally?”