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Sports: WHS football coach makes his debut
By Roger Greene
It was a learning experience for Waccamaw football in 2016. Making the jump up to Class AAA, the Warriors experienced some growing pains finishing with a 1-9 mark on the season.
New faces will abound for WHS this year, starting at the top of the program with Shane Fidler taking over the coaching reigns from Tyronne Davis. Fidler’s coaching debut will come Friday night against visiting Andrews, a county rival that has its sights set on a return to the Class AA playoffs and a possible run at a Region VII-AA title.
The Yellow Jackets feature an offense led by quarterback Jaizell Murphy and running back Michael Pipken, a backfield combo that combined for 22 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards rushing in 2016. The Warriors will dress roughly 29 players on Friday, only eight of whom are seniors.
The contest will mark the first extended playing experience for many players and Fidler says the on-the-job training aspect is something his squad will need to adapt to.
“The guys we have are the ones who earned the right to be here,” Fidler said. “They made their workouts and did what we asked. They’ve worked hard and the experience will come.”
“There have been changes to the program. We’re asking our players to do some things differently. The goal is for us is to become a better team over time.”
Handling Andrews’ ability to make big plays, matching the Jackets’ energy, and creating some opportunities early will be necessary ingredients for Waccamaw to produce a winning recipe.
“Andrews is very well coached,” Fidler said. “They play with confidence and they’re aggressive. We have to be able to meet that and respond.
“Good and bad things are going to happen in every game. We have to be aware of that and respond accordingly. We have to line up every play and try to be better than the [opponent] lining up across from us. If we can do that, we’ll see results.”
The need to play with confidence and energy have been part of Fidler’s mantra since taking over the Waccamaw program in February. These have been particular points of emphasis on defense, the goal being to reduce the susceptibility to big plays and improve tackling in the open field.
The strength of the defense is in the secondary, where junior cornerbacks James Alston (6-foot-0, 170 pounds) and Tyfiq James (5-11, 165) man the outside. They are backed up by sophomore safety Ryan Fox (5-7, 160) and his counterpart, junior Man Dew (5-6, 170).
Senior Seth Ellis (6-3, 195) established himself late in fall practice in the middle linebacker slot. Ellis and his fellow linebackers will back a defensive front that is still undergoing a degree of evaluation by Fidler and his staff.
“We’re rotating a lot of people in and out on the defensive front to see what the best fits are,” Fidler said. “A lot of that is going to depend on who we’re playing. We know we’re going to have to adapt what we do to our opponents.
“Much of what we’ve worked on defensively revolves around winning the battles at the line of scrimmage and tackling. Those are things we work on daily.”
Junior Brendon Stecz was expected to be Waccamaw’s starting quarterback on Friday, but an injury during practice has him questionable for the game. Junior Corey Savoie would likely be under center in Stecz’s absence.
Fidler served as offensive coordinator at Colleton County before coming to WHS and was known for guiding offenses whose bread and butter was a prolific passing game. But Waccamaw’s attack this season may be more ground based.
“I like to throw,” Fidler said. “I can’t escape that. And I think we have the ability to make some plays. But you have to run the ball effectively to win. And we need to find ways to establish our run game.”
Fox and Dew are expected to split time as the feature back, operating behind an offensive line anchored by junior center Trey Davis (6-0, 260) and the left-side senior combination of guard Sean Graham (6-2, 215) and tackle Jack Graham (6-3, 220).
“Ryan and Man are the type of backs that fit what we want to do. They’re smaller, but both are tough, physical runners. And I really like some of the glimpses I’ve seen from our offensive line. We have the potential to be physical and aggressive. But we need to work on being more consistent.”
Alston will double as a wide receiver with sophomore Tyree Funnye (5-11, 165) also on the outside.
“Tyree had a great camp,” Fidler said. “He’s made some plays that have gotten our attention. And James cannot only make plays downfield, he also does a great job of blocking. We’ve talked about being physical and James has taken that to heart. Not only at [cornerback], but also at receiver.”
Dillon will once again be the favorite in Region VI and will also remain a constant in the state championship hunt. Lake City, Loris, Georgetown and Aynor round out the conference.
“It’s a very tough region,” Fidler said. “There are a lot of quality teams. Overall, I think eight teams on our schedule made the playoffs last year. We know we’re going to be tested.”