It’d be a steep challenge for Nation Ford to repeat last season, the best in school history. The Falcons were one win away from playing for a 4A Division II state title, but graduated 25 seniors and are starting from scratch in many areas.
The Falcons return second-leading receiver, senior Alex Stennett, who produced nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last fall. But Stennett is one of just two starters back on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive lineman Damian Peeples is the other; he should lead a revamped but very sizable group of blockers that includes potential starters Dylan Lee, Tariq Walker and Jack Snowburger.
Quarterbacks Chris Layle and Kirk Rygol are battling for the starting job, after Rygol moved in over the summer from Virginia. Allen said that competition will continue through camp with a decision expected before the season begins. Regardless of which QB wins the gig, there are no expectations to jump in and repeat last season’s 6,400-yard offensive haul, undoubtedly one of the best offensive seasons in state history.
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The defensive side of the ball is more settled with All-Area players Ben Tuipulotu (safety) and Corbin Tesimale (linebacker) back, as well as Vinny Catan, another solid contributor at linebakcer. Senior cornerback Harry Goodwin also returns in the secondary and will be joined by a host of upcoming young guys competing for playing time, including safety Tim Smith and cornerback Malik Barber.
Allen is especially intrigued by his defensive line, which lost all four starters. The upcoming group includes several well-built sophomores, Jayland Keells and Aronde Smith, and a senior that’s switched positions, Javon Womble, who the Falcons hope can have a similar impact to graduated senior defensive end Charlie Newton. He switched from linebacker last summer and had one of the best defensive seasons in school history.
Returning starters: 2 offense, 6 defense
Key returning players: Sr. WR Alex Stennett; Jr. DB/WR Ben Tuipulotu; Sr. LB Corbin Tesimale; Jr. LB Vinny Catan; Sr. OL Damian Peeples; Sr. WR/DB Halen Burgess; Sr. OL Tariq Walker; Sr. QB Chris Layle.
Coach Michael Allen (6th year)
Career record 31-30
Assistant coaching staff Kirkley Russell, defensive coordinator; Zak Lendyak, offensive coordinator; Trey Johnson, defensive line; Chris Rust, wide receivers; Wayne Richardson, defensive line; Jamel Foster, running backs/defensive backs; Taylor Irvin, offensive line; Peter Tuipulotu, running backs/receivers; Dewayne McClain, offensive line; Shaun Potts Harris, defensive backs.
Last season 9-5, lost to Northwestern 30-22 in the 4A Division II Upper State championship game
Last 9 years combined 42-62 (40 percent)
School state championships N/A
August 19 Irmo*; 26 at South Pointe*
September 2 Open; 9 at York*; 16 Lancaster*; 23 Indian Land*; 30 at Clover
October 7 at Rock Hill; 14 at Byrnes*; 21 Northwestern*; 28 Fort Mill*
▪ Nation Ford’s opponents won 61 percent of their games last season; star denotes 2015 playoff team; cursive denotes Region 4-5A opponent.
Numbers to know
0 playoff wins in Nation Ford’s short football history before last season.
2 wins in the 2015 postseason during the Falcons’ run to the state semifinals.
2 offensive starters returning this fall.
86 percent of the Falcons’ offensive production last season came through the air.
280 pounds is about the average weight of Nation Ford’s offensive line group, which is inexperienced but large.