As Holly Hill Academy head football coach Michael Nelson aptly put it, the game on Friday night between his Raiders and the Laurens Academy Crusaders “could set the tone for the rest of the season.”
Nelson is in his third season as athletics director but first in charge of the football team. He has more players – 22 to the Crusaders’ 17 – but fewer seniors – LA has nine to his five.
“Our five seniors have had to play meaningful snaps their whole high school careers,” Nelson said.
The same could be said of Todd Kirk’s senior class – Thomas Lowry, Jonas Smith, Caio and Nicholas Rita, Judson Wadkins, Carson Venable, Zachary and Hunter Mullinax and Reles Littleton – most of which has been around to lift Laurens Academy’s fortunes on the way through school.
A year ago, Holly Hill eked into the playoffs and finished 5-5. The Crusaders narrowly missed the postseason and finished 4-5. Richard Winn eliminated the Raiders, 36-14, and defeated Laurens Academy, 52-20, in the regular season.
The season opener will have the county all to itself at 7:30, which might be worth a little extra in terms of LA’s home-field advantage.
Holly Hill Academy’s top player is running back Zach Peloni, who will carry most of the rushing burden since the starting tailback fell to a fractured ankle this week in practice, according to Nelson, a Presbyterian College graduate, whose Raiders also rely heavily on quarterback Marion Breland.
Like the Crusaders, HHA has three powerful linemen – Carter Judy, Dyson Dantzler and Ramsey Norris – anchoring both the offense and defense. Dantzler and Norris are seniors.