By Kevin Price
For GCS Athletics
The Brunswick High Pirates were excited about the upcoming 2020 football season prior to the coronavirus pandemic interrupting their offeseason back in March.
And, the Pirates are still eager to get started with what they hope is a promising campaign for the program.
But like every other team out there, the Pirates have never sailed into a season like this one in which a real but controversial and possible deadly virus is impacting football like it has most everything else.
“Everyone is fired up that there is gonna be a season, but we’re also on pins and needles,” said BHS coach Sean Pender who is beginning his fourth season with the team. “No one is at ease. We all know we could be quarantined at any time. Our players, they have put in so much work and time, but they could be quarantined because they are sitting next to someone in class who tests positive (for Covid-19) even though they are wearing a mask and don’t have any symptoms themselves.”
That is certainly a reality facing the Pirates and other teams in today’s climate. Anyone determined to have had close contact with someone testing positive for the virus must self-isolate for 14 days based on guidelines issued by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Georgia High School Association has also implemented a five-day acclimation period for any player coming out of quarantine before they can fully return to practice or competition.
Going into this week, the Pirates didn’t have anyone slated to miss Friday night’s opening game at Pierce County because of Covid, but a few players are hampered by injuries which could affect their playing status for the game in Blackshear.
The Pirates are coming off a 6-6 season last fall when they made the Class AAAAAA state playoffs and won a first-round game at Morrow before falling to eventual state champion Harrison in the second round.
With several starters and suitable depth at many positions returning, Brunswick is optimistic it can continue trending in a positive direction in 2020, barring a Covid wipeout or something like a rash of injuries derailing its season.
“We’ve got a chance to be solid,” Pender said. “Our 2017 team was very explosive. We can be good offensively like that team, but in a different way. That team had a lot of one-play touchdowns in the air. This team, our run game is pretty tough. We’ve got good players on defense. We just need to be more consistent on that side of the ball.”
Brunswick will keep its spread offense in place, but the Pirates figure to build around the rushing attack led by junior running backs Chuckobe Hill and Ree Simmons. Hill made all-region in Region 2-AAAAAA last fall while running for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns with Simmons adding 601 yards rushing and 11 scores.
Together, the tandem also combined for 34 receptions, close to 600 yards and five touchdowns, catching the ball out of the backfield.
Pender said Hill is stronger and faster than he was a year ago while Simmons has had a good preseason and looks poised for a strong season.
Paving the way up front for the Pirates will be an offensive line that features senior tackle Caleb Cook, a Georgia Southern commit and junior tackle Kanaya Charlton, who already has several major-college offers. Other starting linemen are guards Jaquan Gibson, a sophomore, and David Newbauer, a senior who played defensive line last year, and center Keegan Carroll, a senior who moves over from guard.
“We’re gonna run the ball, provided the running backs and our offensive line stay healthy,” Pender said.
Senior KJ Lee will open the season as Brunswick’s starting quarterback after backing up now-graduated senior Anthony Mountain last season. Lee missed the early part of last season while recovering from a foot injury.
“He’s had a good preseason,” Pender said. “He can throw the ball effectively. We need him to make good decisions. He doesn’t have to be a hero.”
Brunswick’s receivers are led by sure-handed Xavier Bean, a senior who moves to wideout after previously starting at tight end, and fellow senior Tyrease Jones, who is more of a big-play threat. Bean was second on the team last fall with 35 catches for 401 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, the Pirates are changing from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 scheme to make better use of their personnel, according to Pender.
“We’ve got more depth at linebacker, more kids ready to play. So, we made the switch,” the coach said.
Brunswick’s probable starters at linebacker are all seniors – AJ Wilson, Camron Crump, Bryce Morris and Zane Rosenbaum. Several players are in position to play in reserve roles.
The defensive front will feature senior end Kaleb Hampton, a college prospect, and sophomore noseguard Kayshawn Thomas who already has an offer from South Carolina.
Pender said two starting offensive lineman – Cook and Newbauer – will also see action on the defensive front.
The BHS secondary will include senior cornerback Amarion Whitfield, who is getting looks from colleges. Whitfield started at receiver all last season and will still see time on offense to give the Pirates another big-play threat as a pass-catcher.
Other projected starters are junior cornerback Derrick Smith, senior safety Devontae Gadson and sophomore safety Ivan Johnson.
Senior Kyle Rehberg returns as Brunswick’s kicker. He can also punt for the Pirates, but junior Anthony Elvine likely will handle the punting duties to open the season.