Whale Branch football gets set for new season
The Whale Branch football team wrapped up its first week of scrimmaging Sunday with coach Jerry Hatcher feeling relatively optimistic heading into a new season.
He has a reason to be, with the Warriors coming off a 7-5 campaign in which they advanced to the second round of the SCHSL Class AA playoffs with a young nucleus.
Young or not, seven wins is a usually a good goal against a tough non-region schedule Hatcher often refers to as “the gauntlet.” Whale Branch often faces area schools that can be three times its size.
One key to reaching the seven-win mark was stealing two victories during that slate: a 20-18 thriller against rival Battery Creek and a 41-7 blowout of May River in the Sharks’ inaugural season.
The same non-region opponents are on tap this year, starting with Hilton Head Island at home Aug. 25. The team also will host May River and Beaufort before traveling to Battery Creek and Bluffton.
“In the past we’ve beaten Hilton Head and we’ve been down six against Bluffton late, so I mean if we play well, we can beat anybody. I’m not saying we can’t, but you’ve got to be realistic,” Hatcher said. “We’ll typically play them pretty tough for a half, and then as we wear down, they’ll get us.
“The main thing is if we come through that out-of-conference in decent shape, we’re going to be really good in the conference because we would have seen the best teams we’re going to see. We’ve done well with that outlook the past three years. We’ve been either region champ or runner-up in all three, so let’s hope that holds up.”
Any hope for improvement starts with a healthy Irvin Mulligan, one of the most intriguing players in Beaufort County.
Mulligan broke out as a sophomore in 2016, rushing for 1,678 yards and 26 touchdowns. He powered the Whale Branch offense.
Hatcher said the junior recently suffered a concussion. He has a mandatory five-day, no-contact protocol to go through once he’s clear, but Hatcher expects him back.
“He’s also probably our best outside linebacker,” Hatcher said. “I won’t play him there until October, though, because it’s so hot and he’ll probably cramp from playing two ways. When it cools down and we hit region play, he’s going to play both sides of the ball.”
Marion Smalls heads into his second season as the Warriors’ top quarterback. Smalls broke his left wrist early last season against Hilton Head only to return two month later and break his right wrist. Now he is back and fully healthy.
Last year’s fill-in Daijion Galloway is now at Beaufort Academy, so backup quarterback is a question.
Smalls’ top target is senior receiver Jamel Moultrie, who Hatcher describes as dynamic and ready for a breakout campaign on the outside as well as in the punt return game.
Junior Roscoe Fields also figures to get looks out of the backfield and outside.
Another area of concern is the line, specifically its depth.
“If we had about five more linemen, I’d feel really good because our skill guys our solid,” Hatcher said. “We need some guys up front, though, because they have to play both ways. We’re basically trying to take eight and play nine positions.”
Hatcher said it’s not uncommon for players to appear on the first day of school and then come out for football. He said the line faced the same situation in 2015 before Chris Wilson and Donovan Whatley showed up late and rounded out the front.
Anthony McVay and Carus Epps are the returning seniors on the line, while other spots are still up for grabs.
The returners at linebacker include juniors Caleb Arquette and Kyshon Hipp and sophomore JaHeim Fripp, though who will play where is still in question.
“Generally, I like to start the younger guys on the outside and as they grow and progress kind of move them inside, so they know both positions by the time they’re seniors,” Hatcher said.
The team’s most experienced unit is the secondary, which is led by C.J. Brown and Jaheem Hazel. Both players are entering their third year as starters and neither is a senior. That says a lot about Whale Branch’s roster makeup.
“We’re going to make a strong effort to keep our ninth-graders on JV even though there are some that can probably play on Friday nights,” Hatcher said.
“We want to let them play a lot (on J.V.). But we played so many ninth-graders last year that we don’t need to rush those guys up. I mean, we went to the second round of the playoffs with three ninth-graders starting on defense.”
Whale Branch football schedule
Aug. 25: vs. Hilton Head Island
Sept. 1: vs. May River
Sept. 8: vs. Beaufort
Sept. 15: at Battery Creek
Sept. 22: at Bluffton
Sept. 29: at Woodland
Oct. 6: vs. North Charleston
Oct. 13: at Academic Magnet
Oct. 20: vs. Garrett Academy Tech
Oct. 27: at Burke