Warriors look to take next step in 2015
By David Shelton
Mt. Pleasant – As he begins his seventh season as the head football coach at Wando High, Jimmy Noonan is hoping his program is ready to become a consistent contender in region 7-AAAA.
The Warriors finished 6-6 last season, losing to Northwestern in the first-round of the Division I-AAAA state playoffs. Wando is 34-38 overall in Noonan’s six seasons, which included a 10-win season in 2012.
If the Warriors are to indeed take the next step in 2015, the defense will have to continue to show improvement. Wando allowed nearly 27 points per game last season, including 63 points in the playoff loss to Northwestern. The defense struggled some in the preseason, albeit against very good offensive teams in Berkeley and Myrtle Beach – both pass-oriented teams.
“We lost six starters on defense and we’ve moved from an odd front to an event front so we definitely are going through some growing pains early,” Noonan said. “We’ve also had some fundamental breakdowns, things that we need to address. Those things are correctable but we certainly have to do a better job defensively than we have done in the preseason. We pretty much didn’t stop anyone.”
Leading the way for Wando’s defense this season is senior lineman Johnny Ray, a 6-4, 260-pound verbal commitment to Wake Forest. Junior Stephen McDaniel also returns along the front, with senior Colton Feinberg anchoring the second line of defense at linebacker. Senior safety Stephen Barrera anchors the secondary. He led the team with four interceptions last season.
The defense will be tested early on with the likes of Lexington, Ashley Ridge and Fort Dorchester on the non-region schedule. All three teams will be among the top offensive units in the state.
Offensively, Wando could be among the best units in AAAA this season. Back under center is senior quarterback Bailey Hart, a 6-4, 200-pounder with loads of experience. Hart passed for nearly 2,000 yards last season and put in extra effort during the offseason, according to Noonan.
Hart’s favorite target is 6-4, 210-pound junior Ortre Smith, perhaps the state’s top prospect in the 2017 class. Smith caught 31 passes for nearly 500 yards last season but will likely double all of his numbers this season.
Taking the load in the run game is senior Kevin Brown (5-10, 180), who led Wando in rushing with more than 700 yards with 14 touchdowns as a junior. Guard Mitchell Head and junior Spencer Mamo are the lone starting seniors along the offensive front. Juniors Payton Engelking, Fisher Peyton and Miles Condon project as early season starters up front.
“We feel like we have the ability to move the football, at least we have done so in the preseason,” Noonan said. “However, it’s for real now. There are no more scrimmages. Teams we play from here on out are game planning and preparing for what we do. It’s going to be very important that we execute and we have told the kids that every series is important now. Turnovers, missed assignments and things like that are unacceptable now.”
Wando opens the season on August 28th at White Knoll.
“They’re a good, solid, well-coached, physical football team,” Noonan said. “They have played a real game already (a 33-28 loss to Fort Mill in week zero) so they have had a chance to be under the lights when it counts. Hopefully our team is ready to play and hopefully we will respond well.”