North Augusta's coaching staff has tried to instill a certain word of advice on Yellow Jackets signal caller Loranzo Hammonds, but it hasn't fully sunk in for the young quarterback.
Hammonds is reluctant to avoid a tackler and run out of bounds, instead opting to lower his head and take a full-on collision.
"We've got to get him to run out of bounds," North Augusta coach Dan Pippin said before rattling off another comment that bordered between half-joke and half-truth. "I keep telling him his self-preservation is the key to my success."
Quarterbacks coach Vic Radcliff echoes Pippin's words on a daily basis to Hammonds, but coming from Radcliff, who was himself a star quarterback at North Augusta in the '90s, the words seem a bit ironic.
"It's hard for me to say something like that, because that's what everybody said about me," Radcliff said. "He liked to run the ball and take the hit. That's what I did."
Hammonds' style is similar to Radcliff's, and the junior quarterback has another year of high school football in front of him. He worked his way up to the starting position after leading the junior varsity team to an 18-2 record in a two-year span and filling in behind last year's senior starter on the varsity squad, Matt Murphy.
Hammonds' talent was evident early on to Pippin, which is why he played him every third series last year even with a seasoned veteran like Murphy available. Murphy was clearly the best choice for the 2008 season, but Pippin also kept an eye on the future and didn't want to start 2009 with a junior quarterback with no varsity experience.
"We felt like we owed it to Travis (to keep him the starter in 2008). He was such a good field manager," Pippin said.
"But they really were two totally different styles of quarterback."
Hammonds said he still learned plenty last year from his upperclassman teammate.
"We were different," he said. "But when I was behind Travis, he taught me leadership. He was the only one that could do that."
Now as the team's starting quarterback, Hammonds has quickly blossomed into what his middle school and junior varsity coaches always knew he would be. He already leads all area high school quarterbacks in passing by more than 300 yards, and one 10-yard pass this Friday will put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He's completed more than 70 percent of his passes, has another nine touchdowns on 439 rushing yards and will enter Friday's game having completed his past 13 passes.
"You can tell he's got 'it'," said Pippin, searching for a better description that had nothing to do with stats. "He's got the swagger. And when he gets challenged, it's better for us."
Hammonds will get the biggest challenge of his young career this Friday when region power Irmo comes to town in what will most likely decide the Region 5-AAAA regular season championship. The pair of Class AAAA top ten teams will clash in what could be a statement game for North Augusta, who brings in an undefeated record but mainly against teams in the local area.
"If we beat Irmo, it'll show the whole state we can win," Hammonds said. "Everybody around here knows it, but we need to show the whole state."
Hammonds and a strong offense that includes Matt Hazel and leading rusher Demarcus Rouse, will have to contend with an Irmo defense allowing an average of nine points per game on the road.
North Augusta's defense will also face a difficult task. The Irmo offense, featuring tailback Mustafa Greene, has posted at least 41 points in each of its five wins this season. Greene averages nearly 200 yards rushing per game.
"We can't let what happens Friday determine the rest of our year, win or lose," Pippin said. "But every one of our kids knows how many rushing yards (Greene) has, and they know how big this is.
"Our defense is predicated on our linebackers, and I think they're pretty good."
Those linebackers include L.J. Perry and Montel Hughes, a pair of defenders who will most likely play on Saturday afternoons next year. They haven't seen a tailback close to Greene's speed this year, but the linebackers left Tuesday's practice in high spirits, preparing for a 5:30 a.m. practice on Wednesday and the biggest stage so far this season on Friday. Perry said despite the hype, his defense has still managed to keep things in perspective.
"People say however we do against Irmo will decide how good we are," he said. "I don't know about that, but we're up for it. We have the confidence."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.