WINNSBORO — The Richard Winn Academy Eagles are the South Carolina Independent School Association’s eight-man football defending champions and their coach believes they can continue to prove they are champions.
In 2014, the Eagles trounced the competition in nearly every contest on their way to a 13-1 record and a state title. With a new season slated to begin Aug. 21 at Charleston Collegiate, expectations are ramping up.
Dan Dickerson, head football coach for Richard Winn Academy, believes the Eagles can continue to soar and score.
“We’re pretty excited,” Dickerson said. “We’re kind of feeling like we’re going to step right back in where we were last year.”
Last season concluded with a 50-14 drubbing of Carolina Academy in the State Championship game.
Dickerson said high expectations are in part fueled by his team’s commitment to off-season conditioning and putting in hours in the weight room.
Richard Winn’s coach described the commitment in the weight room falls just short of the intensity described by last year’s championship team, but said the work ethic is definitely comparable.
“The conditioning aspect is still right there,” Dickerson said.
The Eagles expect to excel on both sides of the ball, but Dickerson said he thinks Richard Winn may be an improved team defensively.
“We may be stronger defensively than last year,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said he looks for senior leaders, such as Webb Yongue, John Coleman and Coker Gilbert to contribute significantly on that side of the ball. Of course, he also expects them to produce mightily for the offense, as well.
This year, many of Richard Winn’s best athletes will be two-way players.
“That’s something we’ve been talking about,” Dickerson said. “Just about the entire offense is looking to play defense.”
Ideally, this would allow Richard Winn Academy’s most talented players to see ample playing time.
“It’s a matter of finding the right guys for the right spot,” Dickerson said. “We want to have our best athletes on the field.”
Offensively, the Eagles will be without graduated Regional Player of the Year Matt Taylor, but Dickerson said he doesn’t expect a scoring slump.
This season, senior Gunnar Hensley will feature under center for Richard Winn.
“He’s got good wheels,” Dickerson said. “He’s also about six inches taller than Matt, so he can see a little better.”
Dickerson said he expects special teams to continue to be an unusually strong point for the Eagles, as Mitchell Gibbons will handle punting and kicking duties.
“We are probably the only eight-man team in the state that actually kicks field goals,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said while expectations are high, he believes Richard Winn’s players remain grounded.
“We’re expected to do well, but they know anything can happen,” Dickerson said. “That one loss (to Andrew Jackson Academy) might’ve been the best thing that could’ve happened to us.”
Dickerson said a particularly workman-like phrase has caught on with his players.
“The guys like to say, ‘Keep pounding the rock,’” Dickerson said.
Richard Winn Academy’s season begins tonight with a 7:30 p.m. away game at Charleston Collegiate. The Eagles’ home opener is 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 against Cathedral Academy.