With most of last year’s offensive starters slated to return this season, the Hawks will have a chance to perfect it.
Hillgrove (10-3) switched from the triple option to the spread after then-quarterback Synjyn Days left for Georgia Tech two years ago. Gage Henry took the reins last season and made the offense work by throwing for 2,222 yards and 20 touchdowns, also adding 1,007 yards and nine more touchdowns on the ground.
Henry helped guide Hillgrove to playoff upsets over Stephenson and defending state champion Camden County before the Hawks lost 45-35 to Brookwood in the quarterfinals.
Not many expected Hillgrove to be successful with its passing attack after the team did most of its damage on the ground in 2009. But the downside for 2011 is that the Hawks are seeking a new starting quarterback.
Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside wouldn’t disclose the names of the candidates, but it appeared that they made progress during this year’s spring workouts, as did players in other positions.
“Being in the second year of our new offense makes it easier,” Ironside said. “We’re now able to be deep in it. We just have to work hard each day.”
It’s unknown how Hillgrove will do this season with a new quarterback, but at least opposing teams will respect the run with the return of rising senior running back Kenyan Drake.
Drake, who has already committed to Alabama, was an integral part of Hillgrove’s success. He rushed for 1,000 yards last season, adding 539 more through the air. One of his better showings came when he totaled 170 yards and two touchdowns in Hillgrove’s upset over Camden County in the playoffs.
Hillgrove’s leading receiver, Jordan Marshall, is also returning, and the Hawks appear to be set at the offensive line.
If they have any other concerns about 2011, it’s having to restructure the front seven on defense. Hillgrove took a big hit with the loss of defensive stalwarts Jabari Hunt-Days (Georgia Tech), Brandon Chubb (Wake Forest) and Ira McCune (Furman).
“We graduated, pretty much, our front seven, and some of them you can’t replace,” Ironside said.
Only time will tell if Hillgrove will be reloading or rebuilding in the trenches.
“I thought we got better as the spring went,” Ironside said. “They know what they’re doing. They just have to keep working at it and figure out how to stop somebody.”