Graduation hit the Fort Dorchester Football team particularly hard this year, but the Patriots are working to make the needed adjustments.
The Patriots wrapped up their spring practice late last month and will continue to evaluate players as they hit the weights and participate in position camps this summer.
“Spring practice went really good,” Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad said. “We did a lot more than we normally do because we graduated so many starters. We are working really hard in the weight room and we were a lot more physical in the spring this year. We got after it a whole lot more than we normally do.”
Fort Dorchester graduated 10 of 11 defensive starters from last season and seven of 11 offensive starters. Making it a bigger challenge for Fort coaches is that many of the players who graduated are the ones who led the team the past two seasons. The most noticeable loss is the departure of quarterback Dakereon Joyner, who joined the South Carolina Gamecocks this spring.
While players on this year’s squad have big shoes to fill, the team doesn’t exactly lack varsity experience.
“We only have five starters back, but we had so many blowout games last year that these guys got to play a lot. They really do have a lot of experience.”
The Patriots managed to jump out to such big leads in games last year that they were able to pull starters early in the second half many Friday nights. The team used its 2018 spring practice largely to evaluate new athletes and consider which returning letterman might be better utilized in a position other than the one they played last season.
“Spring for me is about getting a couple of surprises and finding were your holes are,” LaPrad said. “This was one of the better springs we’ve had. The group that just graduated was probably the most successful and hardest working group we’ve had. It’s scary, but this group we have now is out working them in the weight room. These guys are hungry and realize it’s their chance and I guess that was the best surprise for me. Our (theme) this year is Chasing Greatness and they are ready and willing to do what they need to in order to be good.”
The new squad does have some high-caliber talent.
Linebacker Davon Gilmore is the only starter back on defense so he will be looked to for leadership this season. Gilmore led the Patriots in tackles last season with 121. That included 13 tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also forced three fumbles and had an interception.
Junior linebacker Darryle Ware wasn’t a starter last season but did contribute to the team’s success. He already has an offer from Coastal Carolina.
The Patriots are having to replace their entire secondary, but LaPrad said four players have stepped in and are doing well there so far.
Offensively, the Patriots should have strong leadership.
Receiver Chaz Jones will be a four-year varsity letterman and the only player remaining who was on the Patriots’ 2015 state championship team. He was a ninth-grader that year. Last season, Jones made 21 receptions for 541 yards.
Junior running back Kalil Jenkins should get a chance to show his full potential this season. Last year, he rushed for 830 and 12 touchdowns.
Junior De’Andrae Sabb is expected to be the starter behind center next season. As a backup to Joyner last season, Sabb rushed for 368 yards and six touchdowns while passing for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots also have experience up front on that side of the ball.
“Our offensive line will be our most mature group,” LaPrad said. “We will have three to four seniors starting there so I’m excited about our offensive line. That usually has a big impact on how many ball games you win.”