by Gary Lloyd
The Briarwood Christian School football team knocked on the door in 2016, and this season the Lions are striving to knock it down.
Last season included 12 wins bookended by only two losses: a 43-15 defeat against Chelsea in the season opener and a 14-8 loss to Wenonah in the Class 5A semifinals. There were big moments, such as the 15-14 win at Wenonah during the regular season, and two wins over Mortimer Jordan, one of those coming in the quarterfinals.
The Lions are looking to recreate those stellar moments and more this season.
“Our goals would obviously be to win the state championship,” senior safety Carson Donnelly said. “That will happen by fi rst winning our region. We have some great teams in our region fi lled with talent that we will probably have to face in the later rounds of the playoffs.”
Class 5A, Region 5 includes Wenonah, Fairfi eld, Pleasant Grove, Shelby County, Woodlawn, St. Clair County and Moody. The Lions rolled through that schedule with a perfect 7-0 record in 2016, and this season, some of the tougher opponents will come to Lions Pride Stadium.
“Our playoff experience last year will benefi t us most this year,” Donnelly said. “The playoffs are a completely different feeling. We know how big the stakes are in these games and have great coaches who prepare us for anything.”
You may laugh at his nickname, but you will likely come to appreciate it this fall. Teammates call senior Michael Hiers “Magic Mike” because he has the ability to create something out of nothing and extend plays with his feet. Hiers is the heir apparent at quarterback, replacing William Gray, one of the most successful signal-callers in school history.
“[Hiers] had a very successful season as the JV quarterback last season and also a very good season as a starter on the baseball team,” junior running back JR Tran-Reno said.
Other key losses are Barrett Tindall, who made some big plays and was a solid blocker last season. Kolby Kwarcinski and Luke Miskelley will be missed as wide receivers. There will be four new offensive linemen, but there is talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Tran-Reno will get the bulk of the carries this season, but look for Luke Prewett and Jay Kynerd to also get touches.
“We’re expecting JR to have a terrifi c year,” Briarwood head coach Fred Yancey said.
The split end position will likely be filled by Jake Dyson and Hudson Hartsfield. The tight end position looks to be a battle between Gabe Morris and Matthew McKenna. At the other wide receiver position, look for Carson Eddy to have a big season, but don’t be surprised, however, if Bryce Perrien also sees time there.
The H-back position will be battled for among David Meyers, Noah Whatley and P.C. Strickland. Garrett Bell and Trent Howard are likely the starting tackles, with the guard spots open for competition. William Heidepriem and Landon Berg will battle for the center position.
“There is a lot of talent throughout, just not much varsity experience,” Donnelly said.
Yancey sees potential in his line.
“We’re excited about our tackles in particular,” he said.
The Briarwood defense will make big plays in 2017. The unit returns Donnelly, senior middle linebacker Gabriel Russell and a host of others. Russell was a first team all-state selection last season with more than 140 tackles.
“He’s really a terrifi c football player,” Yancey said. “Not very big, but he’s a great player.”
Replacing Champ Stewart and Jordan Harmon on the defensive front will be tough, but Dalton Brooks, Patrick Blythe, Carson Kolb and Joseph Munganast are up to the task. Russell, Mark Hand, Sam Hamner and Brandon Kassouf will lead an athletic linebacking corps. Hand is committed to play lacrosse at the University of North Carolina.
“We really think Mark is going to have the opportunity to make a decision about college football as the years go on,” Yancey said of the junior.
The secondary returns three starters, including Donnelly, Hartsfi eld and Andrew Sherrod. Look for Cade Dickinson and Jonathan Hill to see playing time in the defensive backfi eld as well.
“That secondary and those two linebackers are going to kind of spearhead the defense,” Yancey said. “We’re counting on that defense to be pretty good this year.”
Sophomore Noah Nall will likely be the placekicker after an impressive freshman season.
“We’re counting on him to be an explosive kicker this year,” Yancey said.
Punting duties will be handled by either Tran- Reno or Hiers. Hartsfi eld will likely return punts, while Tran-Reno and Eddy will return kickoffs.
“We have great leaders throughout the offense and defense who lead by example and work hard,” Donnelly said. “I’m looking forward mostly to competing for a state championship with my best friends. We have been playing together ever since we were little, and this is our last run at it.”
Tran-Reno said the Lions are focused on their fi rst game against Chelsea, but the thought of making another run through the playoffs is hard to ignore.
“I think we will look to improve in 2017,” he said. “The semifi nal loss has really fueled us.”
Head coach: Fred Yancey
Overall record: 296-110-1
At Briarwood: 255-90
Tenure: 28th season
Offensive Coordinator: Bobby Kerley
Offensive Line: Ernest Carroll
Offensive Backs: Daniel Forester
Defensive Coordinator: Matthew Forester
Defensive Line: Shane Harmon
Defensive Backs: Brent Reese and Chris Donnelly