It was a familiar ending to the 2017 football season for Barnwell. The Warhorses' ground and pound game had gotten head coach Dwayne Garrick and his team to the Class AA Lower State championship game for the second consecutive year.

For the second consecutive year that was also where the run ended for Barnwell.

The 23-3 loss to Bamberg-Ehrhardt, in which Barnwell could never really get the passing game going, stung, but it also gave the Warhorses a push toward fine-tuning their offense to become a more versatile, well-rounded team.

Fast forward to this season and Barnwell has shifted to a single back offensive scheme and plans to spread the ball around more.

“We've been in the wishbone and everything is so compact in there that when you get to those last couple of ball games it's really tough, especially against opponents that are really physical on defense,” Garrick said.

It was a big undertaking, especially in the midst of making a transition at quarterback from Pete Elmore, who is playing at Newberry College now, to junior quarterback Craig Pender. Pender will be helped by the fact he has more weapons out wide than Barnwell has had in the past, one of them being receiver Ty Frazier, who will be called on to be a leader.

“The good thing for us is the fact that we really always practiced it,” Garrick said of the single-back offense. “We've always kind of had it in place, but now we've put a lot more emphasis on it.”

Garrick and his coaching staff also did research and spoke with other coaches around the state who run strictly single-back offenses.

Barnwell also returns a stout offensive line. Briggs Kearse and Isaiah Williams saw a lot of snaps in their first two seasons, and senior center Nathan Miller is also back.

They'll be blocking for returning running back Brandon Harvey, who rushed for 1,203 yards and 17 touchdowns while splitting time in the backfield with Mykal Lee, who also graduated.

One thing that will certainly be an aid to any struggles offensively will be the fact the Warhorses return plenty of starters on the defensive side of the ball.

Barnwell only allowed 13 points per game last season, and only three of its 13 opponents scored more than 20 points.

“The scheme will stay a lot like it's been. I feel really good about what we're doing on defense. We've got 11 guys that can really run around and play,” Garrick said. “I feel like we'll be as strong defensively as we've been since I've been back.”

Linebacker Deshawn Watson is the returning leading tackler and one of the anchors of the defense. He'll be joined at the inside linebacker position by Julius Arnold, who will be moving over this year. Reggie Roberts, Markel Corley are two of the leaders at defensive back. The depth continues along the line as well with Copeland Burbage, Earnest Smith and James Raber all expected to play big roles.

“Everybody, going into Day 1, thinks they can play for a state championship, and that's not reality. At Barnwell High School that is a reality,” Garrick said. “We've got that opportunity. There's so many factors that play a part from right now to late November, December, you know, staying healthy, having the right people on the field making plays, doing things the right way. All those things are things that are going to be important for us to be successful.”

​Eric Russell is the sports editor at the Aiken Standard. Contact him at 803-644-2396.