Heading into the 2012 season, Strom Thurmond’s Jauveer Hammond was a converted defensive back who was charged with replacing Raleigh Yeldell, the first-team quarterback on the All-Aiken Standard.

One spectacular season later, Hammond captured that honor and, as a result, is the Aiken Standard’s No. 2 Player to Watch for 2013.

During his junior campaign, Hammond passed for close to 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns, completing almost 60 percent of his passes. The dual-threat quarterback also ran the ball 170 times for 1,258 yards and 18 more scores.

Unlike last year, when the Rebels returned Mr. Football finalist and All-Aiken Standard athlete Darius Hammond in the backfield along with receiver Ty Brooks, Jauveer can expect to be the main target for the opposition week after week. He said he’s looking forward to returning to the football field as the main threat and as an experienced quarterback.

“It means a lot,” Hammond said. “It means I’ve got to step up and lead the team because we do have a young team this year.”

His head coach, Lee Sawyer, said he knew Hammond would be ready for the challenge.

“He’s smart,” Sawyer said. “He’s seen growing up that somebody for us has a different target on his back.”

Sawyer said that Hammond solidified his place among the Rebels’ top threats in the team’s 2012 Week Zero opener against Eastern Christian Academy. That team, playing out of Maryland, was loaded with Division-I recruits. Hammond passed for 215 yards and three touchdowns against the Honey Badgers and ran for 83 more and another score in a 39-35 shootout loss.

“I think that game right there says a lot about him,” Sawyer said of Hammond, whose counterpart in the contest was Southern Cal commit David Sills.

“The stage, the magnitude of the game doesn’t matter to him.”

One of the reasons for Hammond’s immediate success as quarterback in the Rebels’ read-option offense is his demeanor.

The rising senior is soft-spoken, but that reserved nature was an asset in leading his teammates, some of them older and more established.

“He’s a very calm leader in the huddle, a couple of my seniors told me that in the offseason,” Sawyer said.

In addition to offensive skill players, the Rebels lost a lot of major contributors all over the field to graduation, from All-Aiken Standard selection Aaron Cook to offensive linemen Jake Goforth and Montel Webb. Despite that adjustment, Sawyer’s pleased to be getting back “somebody who’s a definite threat to go the distance on you ... and he’s got a great arm.”

Hammond showed off that versatility against Hilton Head in the playoffs. Facing man-to-man coverage on the outside, he scampered for rushing touchdowns of 43 and 96 yards in the first quarter as part of a 192-yard rushing performance. He finished the first half of that win with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Brooks.

This year, he’ll have to produce without other weapons drawing the focus of defenders. Even if opponents key on his quarterback, Sawyer is confident that Hammond will find a way to lead the team and won’t be rattled by the added attention.

“He doesn’t care if he’s the target,” Sawyer said. “That doesn’t seem to bother him, and that’s the kind of guy you want taking your snaps.”

Hammond took it a step further. He said that he doesn’t expect any added pressure as the main focus on one of the area’s top teams.

“It doesn’t add any pressure,” he said. “It’s still just a football game; you have fun like you do any game.”

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.

Series glance

This story is the ninth in a series highlighting the top 10 Players to Watch in the Aiken area for the rapidly approaching high school football season. The list will be revealed in descending order on a daily basis, with the No. 1 player to watch to be revealed on Sunday.

• July 12 – No. 10 Reggie Preston, RS-M

• July 13 – No. 9 Jaylen Lawrence, SB

• July 14 – No. 8 RJ Tyler, W-S

• July 15 – No. 7 Taylor Hearn, W-E

• July 16 – No. 6 Rasool Clemmons, SA

• July 17 – No. 5 Nakeem Spann, AIK

• July 18 – No. 4 Daniel Carr, MV

• July 19 – No. 3 Trib Reece, NA

• Today – No. 2 Jauveer Hammond, ST

• Sunday – No. 1

The order was determined by Aiken Standard sports editor Noah Feit, staff writers Jeremy Timmerman and Eric Russell, North Augusta Star news editor Scott Rodgers, Aiken Standard intern Kyle Dawson, as well as ASTV broadcasters Ed Girardeau and Ken Brace.