Athlete(s) of the Week: Thomas Heyward seniors going for four-peat

Sports

RIDGELAND, S.c. (WSAV) – It’s business as usual up in Ridgeland as the Thomas Heyward Academy football team gets ready for another shot at a title.

“That feeling feels good when you’ve got that ring on,” senior defensive end and offensive tackle Preston Hamilton said with a smile.

The Rebels’ senior class is on the cusp of something that hasn’t been accomplished at this school since 1981: four straight state championships.

“I love it,” senior wide receiver Cody Parker said when asked about the team potentially making history. “Going up there with all the guys, knowing you are about to kick somebody’s butt. I can’t ask for anything else.”

If the Rebels are able to take down Lee Academy in the 2021 SCISA 1A state championship Saturday afternoon in Charleston, the seniors who have been with the program all four years will have as many state titles in their career as losses.

“I wish I knew what it was like as a player,” head coach Nic Shuford said with a smile. “That’s crazy.”

Success like this doesn’t happen overnight.

“People aren’t just rolling out a red carpet saying ‘here’s another trip to the state championship’,” Shuford added. “We are having to go out and earn it year-in and year-out.”

In a rematch of last year’s state title game, both Thomas Heyward and Lee Academy come into Saturday’s game having “been there before.” The Rebels got the better of Lee Academy in 2020’s title game, lifting the trophy after a convincing 46-14 win.

It’s why, less than a week before the game, you’ll find a confident and loose Rebels team at practice.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” senior wide receiver Brandon Howard said matter-of-factly. “This isn’t a rest week just because it’s state. It’s just another game at a bigger stadium and we are just ready to play.”

The Rebels are hoping the defense, a unit that has given up less than eight points per game, leads the way in Saturday’s state title game.

“I hate comparing teams, but it’s probably one of the best defenses we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Shuford said. “As far as team, speed, aggression, and just the way they get after it.”

“Getting to push a man into the ground with him fighting his own will, it’s a good feeling,” Hamilton added. “Having them come up looking at you all mad; it’s beautiful.”

As the Rebels get ready to embark on yet another trip to the title the game, the team isn’t taking the journey for granted. Thomas Heyward knows every team is going to give them their best shot.

“I keep it in my head that it’s not the same team from 2018 or 2019,” Howard explained. “This is a whole new team. We don’t have a ring this year and this is the Class of 2022’s first ring.”

The Rebels take on Lee Academy at noon Saturday afternoon in the SCISA 1A state title game at Charleston Southern. We’ll be there with a camera to bring you the highlights and postgame reaction that day on WSAV at 6 and 11.

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