If you were to give Fox Creek’s 2012 season a title, it would’ve perhaps been “Growing Pains.” The young Predators lost a big group of seniors headed into the 2012 season and struggled to a 2-8 overall record and a 1-5 mark in region play. The offense sputtered in many games and finished the season averaging only 10.5 points per game.
However, there were some bright spots for the team. Senior quarterback Trey Mock was fifth among area passers in yardage, amassing 1,011 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Mock split time at quarterback with Deondre Baskett, giving Baskett a chance to get much-needed experience at the position. Many of the other young Predators also gained on-field experience that will come in handy this season. One of the reasons head coach Russ Schneider is so excited headed into the season is because of the leaders he has returning as opposed to coming back with a nearly bare cupboard in terms of experience.
“This young group has played together for a year, and most of them are coming back, so that’s something I’m excited about,” Schneider, who has coached the Predators since the football program started. “Plus, this is some of the best leadership I’ve had in the offseason. They’ve worked the hardest, and this senior class has done a heck of a job leading.”
At the top of that list of leaders for Fox Creek is quarterback Deondre Baskett, who will return as the Predators’ signal-caller eight months after tearing his ACL during basketball season. Baskett saw action all over the field on offense last season. Between his time passing, rushing and receiving the ball, he totaled 969 yards and six touchdowns. While most of his yardage and scoring came as a receiver, Schneider expects big things from the senior quarterback.
“He’s had a pretty good offseason and is kind of the main leader on the offensive side. We’re excited to have him running the show because he’s a responsible player,” Schneider said.
Baskett’s offseason has indeed been pretty good, as the athletic quarterback has received offers from various colleges at quarterback or receiver such as Limestone, Holy Cross and Liberty.
On the defensive side of the ball, Fox Creek will lose its top two tacklers from last year. However, they do return talented defenders in Brandon Stallings and Andrew Crytzer. Stallings, a senior, recorded 53 tackles and an interception last year. Crytzer also had a season of 50-plus tackles with 51.
Fox Creek lost two of their three leading rushers from the 2012 campaign. Blake Crawford rushed for 405 yards and five touchdowns and Zabian Adams ran for 354 yards and four touchdowns. This year, the Predators hope sophomore Keli Lovett and transfer Ike El will be able to shoulder the load in the rushing game. Their progression will be important with some of the alterations to the offensive game this season. El sat out the 2012 season, which was his first year at Fox Creek, but now the big back will be an integral part of the offense.
Games to watch
Much like every coach, Schneider isn’t looking too far past the season opener, but he has multiple reasons to be geared up for the Aug. 23 matchup with Dreher. Fox Creek is looking at it as somewhat of a statement game.
“We go to Dreher the first game, and of course, it’s a AAA school, but it would be nice to go in there and surprise somebody,” he said.
Following the opener is another game the coach sees as a major a hurdle. Fox Creek will travel to McCormick in Week One to take on the 2012 Class A, Division II runner up.
“They’re going to be another tough one for us, but we like the big games, and every region game is important to us,” Schneider said after the teams’ first practice of the year.
The head coach also expressed a desire to improve on their performance against rival Augusta Christian. The Predators lost to the Lions by a score of 38-20 last season.
Schneider decided to tweak the Predators’ offense a bit this season. In the past, Fox Creek ran the Wing-T offense, but this season they hope to utilize Baskett’s athleticism at quarterback in a pistol system. Not many of the plays will change for the Predators; the major change will be the added element of the option.
“We haven’t traditionally ran a lot of option but this year we are going to use it a bit more,” Schneider said. “ With Deondre at quarterback he’s a run threat so we’ve got a good opportunity to utilize his running and his arm”
Now that Baskett will be under center, the Predators will be without their leading receiver from last year. Baskett hauled in 18 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns.
There will also be changes on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, the team ran a 3-5 defense; however, Schneider’s squad returns a solid group of lineman, and he wants to win the battle up front which lead to a change to a 50 defense.
With some of the top defensive players returning on the line, it was a easy decision for the coaching staff.
“We’ve got some really good defensive lineman coming back, and we won’t have as many linebackers as we did so our strength is up front now,” Schneider said. “We’ve got a better chance to stop anything up front.
Baskett will also factor into the Predators’ special teams. Schneider found himself looking for somebody to punt the ball, and Baskett turned out to be the best option. The place kicker for this season will be Gavin Snipes, and Jaquan Williams and Terrance Hillary will be tasked with return duties.
Schneider said his team is out to make some noise in the 2013 season. He expects many to be impressed by the talent Fox Creek has on the field.
“Well, our goal is to win every game. Realistically, it’s too early to tell but I think we will surprise some people,” Schneider said before again mentioning his hopes to open some eyes in the season opener. “I feel we have as good a chance as anybody to compete for the region title.”
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken in 2012 with a degree in communications.