Coming off of a historic season that was capped off by the program’s first ever outright conference championship, the Fighting Scots football team is eager to kick off the 2019 football season.
Fifth year Head Coach Shaun Hayes and his Fighting Scots experienced quite the turnaround last season. After losing the first two games by a combined score of 78-9, the Scots rolled off seven straight victories en route to capturing the U.S.A. South Conference Championship. The season ended with an exit in the first round of the NCAA playoff.
“For this team to build off of last year’s success, we must first forget about it. This is a new year and a new team,” sophomore quarterback Nelson Smith said.
The message that is being spread throughout the locker room is that the team cannot expect to win just because that is what happened last year. The Scots are no strangers to winning football games; however, the team has to play hard, play disciplined, and play together in order to win.
“We can’t get so caught up in the past that we forget who we are in the present. In the same sense, we can’t be overwhelmed by the future, but we remain grounded in where we are right now,” Smith said.
The strengths on the team this fall will be up front with both the offensive and defensive line. The offensive line returns four out of five starters: Zac Layman, Kyle Larson, Jaden Harris, and Davien Montgomery. The offensive line will look to pave the way for running backs Jacob Bunch and Rodney Murray. Bunch and Murray will be tasked with picking up where Elijah Chenier, the school’s all-time leading rusher, left off.
Tight end Terry Stewart (2 TD) and receiver Clayton Ogle (30 receptions, 2 TD) are both expected to catch a lot of passes from Smith and Trevor Thomas (369 yards, 3 TD). The offensive has the potential to be very explosive this season.
“Offensively, we need to play as a unit for us to be very good. Our quarterback has to lead,” Hayes said. Coming off a season in which he passed for 1,066 yards and eight touchdowns, Smith is feeling confident and poised leading the offense.
“I believe the best way to lead is to first act. I’m super big on being a guy that not only talks the talk but walks the walk,” Smith said. “I think I’ve not only done this but have done so in a mature, effective manner. This team can count on me.”
Fifth year senior Trenton Cumby (61 tackles, 3.5 sacks) can change a football game very quickly from his defensive end position. Cumby is the lone returning team captain from last season. Jamal Ware (93 tackles, 4 ints,) and Bo Herring (71 tackles, 2 sacks) are natural leaders who will be making big time plays this season from the linebacker position.
Jeremy Hardnett (7 PBUs) and Michael Bailey (63 tackles, 8 PBUs) are the only two returning starters in the defensive backfield. The kicking and punting duties will be split between Ian Hubbs, Trey Hampton, and Liam Dougherty. The team is focused on the process more than anything right now. Hayes constantly reminds the team to respect the opportunity that they have received.
Hunter Burke dives for an incoming pass.
Photo by Savannah Stewart
“My expectation is for us to stick together. I don’t really have a goal—I just want to take it day by day and enjoy the ride,” Hayes said.
Every year the coaching staff comes together and selects a team motto for the year. The team motto is used to motivate the players and serve as a rallying cry. “No mercy” is the team motto this year.
“It simply means that we show no mercy to waking up in the morning and to the daily process, grind and investment that it takes as individuals for the betterment of others and the game that we say we love to play,” Hayes said. “It has nothing to do with our opponents. It has everything to do with looking at yourself in the mirror. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy.”