By CHRIS HOBBS
WEST LINCOLN REBELS
Conference: South Fork 2A.
Head coach: Tom Sain (41-53, 8 years; 41-53 at W. Lincoln, 8 years).
Last season’s records: 4-8 overall; 2-5 South Fork 2A, sixth place.
Last season’s results: Draughn, W 43-6; Cherryville, W 52-20; at Foard, L 20-22; at E. Burke, L 26-32, OT; N. LINCOLN, W 56-49; MAIDEN, L 13-27; at NEWTON-CONOVER, L 8-58; LINCOLNTON, L 20-35; at BANDYS, L 23-35; at E. LINCOLN, L 35-42, OT; LAKE NORMAN CHARTER, W 46-26. Playoffs: at Reidsville, L 0-51.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2017, 2AA.
Last state playoff victory: None.
All-time state playoff bids: 8.
Conference titles (or shares) since 1980, last: None.
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 18.
Returning lettermen: 26.
Returning starters: 10.
Leading returning rusher: Nakathon Phansook, 5-9, 175, Sr. (253-1,421, 12 TDs).
Leading returning passer: Seth Willis, 6-3, 190, Sr. (32-104-10, 596, 7 TDs).
Leading returning receiver: Nathan Hull, 5-10, 160, Sr. (12-171, 3 TDs).
Other players to watch: Brendan Ikard, 5-11, 175, RB, Sr.; Xander Pendergrass, 5-9, 155, WB, Sr.; Brock Steele, 6-1, 280, OL, Sr.; Harley Scronce, 6-1, 235, OL, Jr.; Nathan Beam, 6-9, 215, TE, Jr.
Top newcomers: Drew Saine, 5-8, 195, OL, Sr. (missed last season with injury).
Returning starters: 8.
Players to watch: Brock Steele, 6-1, 280, DL, Sr.; Nakathon Phansook, 5-9, 175, ILB, Sr.; Canon Bridges, 5-10, 160, OLB, Jr.; Dylan Beam, 5-10, 165, OLB, Jr.
In terms of returning players, the Rebels are in about good of shape as they have been in Tom Sain’s eight seasons – they have 18 and 10 of them are on offense.
The Rebels are the only South Fork 2A team with a nearly 1-2-3 running game punch back in the lineup, as RB Nakathon Phansook is the top returning rusher in the league, RB Brendan Ikard’s 1,365 yards is third best in the conference among returnees and QB Seth Willis also gained 408 yards last season. Another returning ballcarrier, junior Xander Pendergrass, added 250 yards rushing last year.
“This (returning personnel) helps us out in terms of people knowing what to do,” Sain told The Gaston Gazette in a preseason story. “There is nothing like the experience of being on the field. We hope that will work out for us.”
The Rebels will have a challenge many other 2A schools do – lots of players being asked to play both offense and defense – and that could spell the difference between them contending or just having a say-so in who does win the league.
“This is probably the most experienced we have had coming back,” Sain said in the Gaston Gazette story. “A concern is that we have a lot of guys going both ways. And we have to improve our kicking game.”
Conference coaches have picked the Rebels to be in the middle of the pack, as high as fourth place actually, but to get there they’re going to have to beat the teams that match up similar to … and to get any higher in the standings than that will likely mean needing to grab a tough-to-get win over Lincolnton, East Lincoln or Maiden, all teams that (on paper) appear to have an edge over the Rebels.
Sain, though, has changed West Lincoln football with five of their eight all-time state playoffs bids coming in his tenure.
The Rebels have played well enough over the past dozen or so years to help fans not recall so quickly that they did not earn a postseason bid from 1962 through 2004, then got in for the first time under former head coach Randall Gusler.