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The Rams return several key playmakers off of its 2014 Division I-Class AAAA state championship team.
Rising senior Collin Sneed returns at quarterback for the Rams. This will be Sneed’s third year as Hillcrest’s starting signal caller. The quarterback threw for 3,194 yards and 39 touchdowns last season leading the Rams’ most productive offense in school history.
Sneed passed for two touchdowns in Hillcrest’s championship win.
“Having him back as the leader of the offense is huge,” Porter said. “He has broken pretty much every school passing record out there.”
The Rams return a slew of experienced running backs. Rising seniors Quintyn Reeder (the Rams leading rusher in 2013), Quintavis Ballenger, and Jacquavis (JD) Ballenger are explosive playmakers out of the backfield.
JD Ballenger chalked up 26 rushing touchdowns, including two touchdowns in the state championship game. JD’s brother, Quintavis, rushed for over 1,094 yards on the season.
Although key wideouts Kevin Eichelberger and Grant Lawter graduated, Hillcrest returns rising senior wide receiver and return man Brian Spurgeon. Spurgeon led the team with over 65 catches for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Spurgeon was a key contributor in the Rams’ championship victory. Hillcrest trailed 10-0 early on. Then, the speedy wideout got to work giving his team a spark with a 79-yard touchdown catch from Collin Sneed. Spurgeon’s 45-yard punt return for a touchdown just after halftime sealed Hillcrest’s victory.
Rising seniors Logan Johnston, who is returning from a broken leg, and RJ Cain are tall wideouts, who could be big targets for Sneed over the middle. Rising senior Keith Humphrey made the move from running back to wideout in the offseason. Because of his background as a running back, Humphrey should have the ability to make defenders miss in space.
Although the Rams have plenty of playmakers at skill positions, several key contributors graduated on the offensive and defensive lines including four All-Region selections: defensive end Roderick Stoddard (United States Miliary signee), offensive lineman Jamarion McBride (Coastal Carolina), defensive tackle Tay Scott (Wingate University signee), and offensive lineman Kenneth Simms (Georgia Military College).
“We lost six players on offense and eight players on defense to graduation,” said Porter. “The majority of those losses are on the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary.
We have a lot of young players and we expect them to step up and meet the challenge. We have a tough preseason schedule that will hopefully help them mature.”
Hillcrest returns only one starter rising senior Corey Webb on its offensive line. Webb, who was at left tackle last year, has been playing center this spring. Porter said rising senior offensive lineman Roy Pulley has played well in the spring.
“We are trying to find the right chemistry of guys for the starting offensive line this season,” Porter said. “We have anywhere from five to seven kids who are competing for starting positions.
They will continue grow and develop and continue to compete into the fall.”
Rising senior end Khalil Wideman and rising junior defensive tackle Amari Houston will fill key roles on the defensive front. Rising senior Wesley Mathis and Anthony Dennis will serve as defensive ends/linebackers in Hillcrest’s defensive scheme. Mathis recorded 54 tackles and five sacks last season.
“It won’t be the biggest team up front,” said Porter. “We expect them to be very competitive up front. They will be strong and fast.”
Porter said that rising senior linebacker Tori Delesline is one of the best players in the state. Delesline possesses speed and strength not often found in high school linebackers. The rising senior had a team-high 154 tackles last season. The linebacker also had 8.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. Porter said Delesline currently has 11 scholarship offers.
Rising senior Isaiah Sayegh possesses sideline-to-sideline speed. Sayegh also serves as the team’s long snapper. Isaiah’s younger brother Garrett is fighting for playing time at the varsity level.
Starting safety Seth Nichols, who also exceled on the punt block team, Daiquan Hunt, and Marco Westfield, who chalked up a touchdown off an interception against Dutch Fork, graduated from the program.
Rising senior Xavier Simmons is the only player that returns with experience in the secondary. Simmons chalked up 93 tackles and intercepted four passes last season.
Rising seniors Reeder and Quentin Martin, who played wide receiver last season, could see significant time in the secondary. Former running back Jabari Wingate will see time on defense this season.
“The expectation is high,” said Porter. “They have seen the rewards for their efforts.
There is no other way than training to be the best.”
“Our vision is not to be one of the best teams in the state. Our goal is to be one of the best teams in the nation. It is not easy to play for the Rams. The kids that are playing are investing a lot of time at getting better. We take pride in how they perform in school and that they become well-rounded human beings.”