By Chris McCarthy
Consistency will be the operative word this season for Sardis High School.
The 2015 Lions only twice won two straight games on the way to a 5-5 record and a fifth place finish in Class 4A, Region 6.
“For us to get where we need to get, we’re going to have to put some wins together,” said Sardis head coach Gene Hill. “We’ve got four straight region games in the second half of our schedule, so we’ve really got to play well in those games. Wins will definitely be precious in this region.”
Hill pointed to solid participation in off-season workouts as a good sign for the upcoming campaign.
“We had a really good year in the weight room and got a lot of good footwork in, so hopefully we’ll be stronger and quicker. The coaches of our other sports also scheduled their June play dates around [football workouts], which was a big help.
“We only have six seniors this year, but the ones we have are really good and should be big contributors for us.”
Returning as a three-year starter at quarterback is junior Logan Gaskin.
Last season, the All-County selection threw for 1,460 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“Logan had to step up his role last season, especially after [starting running back] Keenan [Lewis] got hurt in the first ball game,” said Hill. “We’re really young at receiver and in the backfield, so we’re expecting big things this year out of Logan.”
Speaking of receiver, the Lions have several players who should participate in the passing game.
“They’re kind of green, but we’ve got some good 10th graders who are tall and can catch and run with the ball very well. The same thing is true for the backfield in that we’ll have several guys who’ll run it for us.
“The linebacker position will be a strength on defense, as seniors Luke Nelson and Ross Strickland return. Nelson had 85 tackles and three sacks in 2015, while Strickland finished with 64 stops.
“Luke’s very intelligent and is the quarterback of our defense,” said Hill. “Ross really came on during the second half of last season and we hope he continues that this year.”
Senior Jesus Hernandez will see time at both cornerback and receiver.
“Jesus ran track last year and really increased his speed, so we think he’ll be a very good player for us on both sides of the ball,” said Hill.
Hill considers left-footed junior Dakota Daniel a significant weapon at punter.
“The ball spins different off the left foot, and Dakota’s got the ability to change field position,” said Hill.
Hill is excited about two recent additions to his staff in former West End head coach Randy Hallmark and former Susan Moore head coach Bubba Jennings. Hallmark also was an assistant under Hill for one season. Hallmark and Jennings join veteran assistants Dusty Darnell, Clay Wright, Phillip Pierce and Matt Harris.
“Coach Jennings has really brought a lot to our program, and he’ll be a big help with the offensive line. I don’t where to begin to talk about Coach Hallmark’s coaching ability; we’re just very fortunate to have him back.”
Sardis shares Class 4A, Region 7 with DAR, Madison Academy, Madison County, North Jackson, Randolph and Westminster Christian. Both Madison Academy (No. 2) and North Jackson (No. 9) are ranked in the ASWA preseason top 10 poll.
“Madison Academy just re-loads year in and year out,” said Hill. “Madison County was a 5A playoff team that dropped to 4A, so they’ll be tough. I think you have to look at those teams as the top tier of the region. Randolph is a playoff-caliber team, and DAR’s program is really coming up. So top to bottom, it’s a very tough region. We’ve also got a solid test right out of the gate with Plainview.”