Daniel has some big shoes to fill offensively. However, solid defense and special teams can combine to serve as a nice security blanket.
Eight starters return from a defense that allowed 10.4 points per game, posted four shutouts and held eight opponents to seven points or less.
“Basically a safety and a corner are the inexperienced guys,” Daniel coach Randy Robinson said. “Everything else is solid.”
The Lions lost one starter from their line and linebacking unit. Tyrell Fleming, Joel Starkes and Lee Eddleman return up front. Neil Monaghan and Michael Peppers are three-year starters at the inside linebacker positions, and Solomon Brown is a three-year starter on the outside.
Robinson said J.D. Davis probably would start at the other outside spot, and twin brother Judah Davis “can play all those positions and has played them.” The two, sons of former Clemson star Jeff Davis, have committed to play at their father’s alma mater.
“We basically split them equal reps last year because they earned the playing time,” Robinson said.
Daulton Pilgrim is a three-year starter at safety, and Amir Trapp is a two-year starter at cornerback.
Daulton Pilgrim, as the holder, also is a member of the Lions’ experienced special teams units. His brother, Dylan, is the long snapper.
Christian Groomes, who handles field-goal attempts, and Rivers Sherrill, who takes care of point-after kicks, both are back, as is Andrew Fowler, whom Robinson said is coming off a great year as the punter.
“Now it comes down to being productive offensively,” Robinson said.
The production will begin with senior running back Jae’lon Oglesby and junior quarterback Andy McCall.
“We have a quarterback that knows the offense, and that’s a luxury I haven’t had in a while, and also Jae’lon’s going to make some plays for us,” Robinson said. “I feel pretty good there. But we’ve got to replace all of our receiving production and some of our offensive line.”
McCall, in his second season as the quarterback, completed 70 percent of his passes a year ago for 1,662 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Oglesby, who has committed to Clemson, rushed for 2,472 yards last season.
Robinson was more concerned about the wide receivers before the summer, before the emergence of Noah Preisch and Charles Colberg.
“Noah had a great JV year, and all summer he caught everything,” Robinson said. “He and Charles Colberg had great summers.”
The line has some growing to do. Left guard Richard Johnson, a three-year starter, is returning from a knee injury suffered in Week 7. Michael Bullock would have been a starter last year if he hadn’t broken a leg in a scrimmage. He’s back at right tackle.
The other three spots have JV guys competing. Devin Woodson likely will be the center. Robinson said Cade Stewart, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, “could be one of those next big-time linemen at Daniel.”
Clay Bullock and Vaughter Garner were competing at right guard. Dakota Thomas was competing for the center position and could play guard.
“The JV went 10-0. We’ve got some good kids coming up and competing,” Robinson said. “We’ve got depth, but they haven’t played a lot on Friday nights.
“We’ve got to be a little creative in play-calling to take pressure off. We can’t just line up and mash everybody from Week 1. I think we will eventually but not right off the bat. We’ll have to protect those guys till they get a little experience.”
Daniel is coming off a 12-2 season, its fifth Western AAA Region championship in the last six years and another trip to the Upper State final.
“There’s an urgency around here,” Robinson said. “Three out of the last five years we’ve lost in the Upper State. Don’t get me wrong. We appreciate the opportunity to play in it. But we’re ready to win that game.”