JOHNSTON — When Strom Thurmond takes the field tonight against Silver Bluff, many of the key starters will appear to be back in action, at least by the jerseys.
The home No. 11 will be in the backfield alongside quarterback Jauveer Hammond with No. 3 out wide. In the defensive backfield, No. 4 will roam the center of the field with No. 6 holding down one side.
The young men in those jerseys will have changed, though, taking on their predecessors’ numbers out of respect and a hope to continue the Rebels’ success.
“They just make us look up to them,” said Chad Gilchrist, a sophomore running back that switched from No. 31 to Darius Hammond’s No. 11 this season. “They do good jobs at what they have to do.”
Gilchrist turned some heads in mop-up duty as a freshman, and he actually had the Rebels’ highest yardage average per carry with 118 yards and a score on 10 carries. Hammond was on another level, though, accumulating nearly 1,600 yards on the ground with 23 scores, and he was also a dynamic kick returner and a force in the passing game.
That overall excellence is the main reason Gilchrist wanted to take the tradition Hammond has going in the No. 11 jersey.
“I feel like Darius was a great impact on me ... he taught me a lot, so I thought about switching to his number,” Gilchrist said.
He isn’t alone in making a jersey switch, and some of the others doing so have already established themselves. Kendall Hill caught 13 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown a year ago while wearing No. 25, but he’s switched to the No. 3 formerly worn by Ty Brooks, who caught 61 balls for more than 1,000 yards and 11 scores in 2012.
Israel Talbert led the team in interceptions last year with five when he wore jersey No. 40, but he’s taking on the No. 6 formerly worn by North-South All-Star selection Hykeem Brooks. Kyle Hill, who wore No. 12 last year and collected 27 tackles and an interception, will attempt to continue Demetrius Leysath’s hard-hitting ways at safety in the No. 4 jersey.
Leysath signed to play collegiately at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Head coach Lee Sawyer said that the process of passing numbers along is a joint effort by the coaches and the players each year.
“One thing I talk to them about is pride, having a lot of pride,” Sawyer said. “We try to build on our tradition here, so yeah, there are certain numbers that are special. They’re special to our underclassmen that look up to those guys when they’re ninth- and 10-graders.”
Assuming the jersey of a player like Hammond, who was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Football award a year ago before heading off to play at Charleston Southern, is not something to be done lightly, Sawyer said.
Despite some of his former players’ immense ability on the field, the Rebel coach said he was more concerned with the younger players, like Gilchrist, being serious about replicating the intangible contributions of their former teammates.
“Not necessarily what kind of plays he made but what kind of person he was,” Sawyer said specifically of Hammond. “Didn’t try to be a hot dog, didn’t try to be flashy; just got the job done and gave great effort. ... If you’re going to do that, make sure you possess all his qualities.”
Gilchrist said he had every intention of patterning his career as a Rebel after the reigning Aiken Standard Offensive Player of the Year.
“I really look up to him, so I’ve got to just step up and be just like him.” Gilchrist said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.