Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad says this season his players know better than to slack off.

The Patriots may have the deepest team they have ever had, which means athletes are fighting for playing time. Fort Dorchester returns seven starters on offense and nine on defense and has no shortage of other talented athletes looking to earn a spot on the field.

“Competition right now within our team is the best thing we have going,” LaPrad said. “We have never had competition like we have right now. They are competing every day and it’s a lot easier for me as a coach because they are competing so hard for playing time. Our starters are fighting their guts out to keep their spot.”

The Patriots have several players who are drawing major college interest and the team’s group of up and coming young athletes has impressed the coaching staff. The Fort is particularly stacked in certain positions.

“We have guys not many people even know about yet,” LaPrad said. “We could play a different set of receivers and four different secondary guys every play for three plays in a row and not drop off.”

Of course, many of the young bucks haven’t yet had the opportunity to prove themselves during a varsity game.

“Now we do have some areas where we don’t have a lot of playing experience,” LaPrad said. “The offensive line is the youngest of our groups, but they have worked hard and put themselves into a position to be successful.”

Senior De’Andrae Sabb returns at quarterback and will be looked to for leadership.

“This is De’Andrae Sabb’s team,” LaPrad said. “He was our leader in offensive stats last season and that’s with him playing injured. He is our guy.”

As a junior, Sabb rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He completed 117 passes for 1,750 yards and 12 TDs while only throwing six interceptions.

“He is obviously great runner, strong and mobile, and he has improved his passing quite a bit,” LaPrad said. “Plus, there is nowhere on the field Sabb can’t play so we are going to take advantage of that.”

Patriot coaches are grooming freshman Zolten Osborne as their future QB. The gun slinger has a strong arm and is expected to take snaps for the varsity this season.

Also returning in the backfield is running back Kalil Jenkins, a three-time varsity letterman. Last season, Jenkins surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark and scored 10 TDs. Juniors Dwayne Wright (6-0, 220) and Mel Wilder (5-8, 158) will also see action at running back.

Seniors Qway Simmons and Antoine Parker and junior Keith Desaussure all return to lead a promising group of receivers. Last season the trio combined to make 77 receptions for just under 1,200 yards and eight TDs.

Senior Damari Joyner (6-1, 268) returns to anchor the relatively young offensive line.

The group does have two seasoned coaches working with it this year and the Patriots may use some of their experienced defensive linemen on offense this year to help with depth and give the younger linemen some time to develop.

“Damari Joyner started on the O-line last year and played a lot as sophomore,” LaPrad said. “We are expecting huge things out of Keith Desaussure, who is possibly the best athlete on our team. Qway Simmons and Antoine Parker are both returning starters at the wide receiver slots. I feel like we have four really good running backs and not having one guy who has to play 40 to 50 snaps a game there should help us.”

Defensively, Fort Dorchester returns players with considerable varsity experience at all 11 positions.

“There is a pretty good chance our front seven on defense will play college ball and that isn’t even counting the guys behind them,” LaPrad said. “We have good leadership on the defensive line and at linebacker and our two corners are two-year starters.”

The defensive line will be anchored by seniors Brandon Johnson (6-3, 281), Da’Quan Robinson (6-0, 243) and Emmanuel Johnson (6-5, 236). Sophomore D.J. Watson (6-2, 262) leads a group of promising young linemen looking to see action in the trenches this season.

Senior Darryle Ware is a returning starter who will anchor the Patriot linebackers while senior corners Jy’Heim Wilson and Kasan Edwards will anchor the secondary. Coaches are also looking for safety Cameron Mitchell to have a big season. Injuries sidelined him the past two seasons, but the senior is anxious to return to the field for the 2019 campaign.

Junior Jalen Levine is a transfer student vying for time in the Patriot secondary. LaPrad said he has already received some “big time college offers.”

Kicker Stephen Herron is back for his senior year but as of press time the Patriots hadn’t made a decision on a starting punter.

Fort Dorchester finished last season at 10-3, but one of the losses was a forfeit. The other two losses were to Summerville and Dutch Fork, the teams that battled in the 5A Lower State 2018 championship game. Dutch Fork went on to claim the 5A state title.

“We had a letdown last year so hopefully we will do better,” LaPrad said. “Our guys are a lot hungrier this year. Hopefully we have grown up a lot in the past year. We had our best offseason since I’ve been here.”

Dutch Fork has been a thorn in LaPrad’s side for the past several years and he expects the Silver Foxes to be one of the top teams again this season.

“There will be some other teams in the conversation but I can assure you every day Dutch Fork practices for Fort Dorchester and every day Fort Dorchester practices for Dutch Fork,” LaPrad said. “There probably isn’t a day that goes by without Coach (Tom) Knotts saying something about Fort Dorchester or Coach LaPrad saying something about Dutch Fork, especially when the playoffs start.”