Augusta Christian coach Bruce Lane wants to shield his young quarterback from pressure as much as possible this season.
Jackson Whitley will try to rebound from an injury that ended his junior varsity season in 2007. He'll be learning to lead a team as a sophomore. And he'll slide beneath the shadow cast by two-year starter Tyler Bourdo.
"There's definitely big shoes to fill," Whitley said.
He won't have to fill them alone. Lane's hope is to build a program in which each piece carries its own weight, and that the unit -- not one or two players -- bears the responsibility of success or failure.
Whitley will have senior Will Banks, whose brother, Lee, quarterbacked the Lions to a state championship in 2005. Banks was the Lions' leading receiver last season and is the top returning rusher. He'll be the Lions' starting tailback this season but could also line up at quarterback.
"It's nice," Banks said of his move to tailback after two seasons as a receiver. "You get the ball (and) do what you want with it."
Banks said the Lions will probably have a few packages using his running skills at quarterback, much like former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
Whitley will probably welcome the support. On Thursday, he'll be participating in his first competitive game since breaking his collarbone against Ben Lippen last season. Whitley tucked the ball and ran and tried to hurdle a defender, but he was tripped up and landed awkwardly.
Lane said June's passing drills and preseason camp helped the sophomore probably more than finishing the JV season would have.
"We feel like he's right on target -- maybe a little further ahead," Lane said. "He's worked against Greenbrier, Harlem and Evans (in passing league). It's made him better."
Lane is hoping the new crew has what it takes to lead the Lions to a state title after consecutive runner-up finishes in SCISA Class AAA. Three starters return on offense, and seven are back on defense.
The Lions open the season at Orangeburg, S.C., on the campus of South Carolina State University, the site of this year's state championship game. Orangeburg Prep will get the concessions proceeds, but Lane is content for his team to get experience on that stage. If the Lions make it back for a second time this season, it will mean Lane's goal of building a consistent program has succeeded.
"We're trying to build a competitive program from the sixth grade on up," Lane said. "So that the names change, but the results don't."
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