With the kickoff of the 2014 high school football season quickly approaching, our reporters will be out at local practices checking in with contenders, dark horses and rebuilding teams alike as they gear up for the fall. Here is the latest installment of our Camp Countdown:
Identifying a player could be tricky at a Damascus practice. The varying shorts and socks are an indicator, and when the yellow helmets are off, the faces are distinguishable. But when the Swarmin’ Hornets are in drills, figuring out who’s who is a guessing game. Most of them wore the same jersey number: 1.
“We’ve lost the last two years by one point in the first round of the playoffs,” Coach Eric Wallich said. “That’s why we all have the No. 1 on our jersey. We lost by one and we want to be one unit. It’s something that should motivate them the whole offseason.”
Only down three starters from last year, Damascus is again expected to be playing in the postseason, but after two straight years of losing to Urbana in the first round by one point, the Swarmin’ Hornets want more than just getting to the playoffs.
“Losing to the same team in the first round by one point twice, you don’t really see that every day,” senior Jalen Christian said. “That’s definitely motivation.”
Christian, a South Carolina recruit who earned first-team All-Met honors as a defensive back last fall, is one of the top returning players for the Swarmin’ Hornets. He totaled 610 receiving and rushing yards in his junior season and scored eight touchdowns.
He’ll be a key weapon for new quarterback Derek Gibson, who competed for the starting quarterback job last season, but ended up starting at safety. Gibson replaces Chase Williams, who threw for more than 1,000 yards and had 13 touchdown passes with no interceptions.
“I think Derek’s great,” junior Jake Funk said. “He was backing up Chase the whole time. He has varsity experience. I don’t think it’ll be any downgrade from Chase.”
In his sophomore season, Funk was the leading rusher with 735 yards and seven touchdowns. With the graduation of Williams and wide receiver Stephon Jacob, Funk could see more carries than he did last season as the passing offense takes shape with Gibson at the helm.
“It’s definitely going to be a little bit more pressure knowing that I’m probably going to be one of the guys that they go to,” Funk said. “But I’ve got 10 other guys around me that are going to help me out.”
With every starter back on defense, it’s expected to be the strength of the Swarmin’ Hornets. Wallich said the defensive starters will receive blackshirts, a reference to Nebraska’s historically stout defenses. Damascus opens its season at home against Einstein on Sept. 5.
“We have a lot of guys returning,” Wallich said. “On paper, we should be better. But it’s just paper.”