PURNELL SWETT RAMS
COACH: Mark Heil
2012: 2-8 (0-5 SEC). Did not qualify for playoffs
KEY RETURNERS: Tyler Maynor (Sr., WR/DB), Chuck Oxendine (Sr., LB), Tevin Thompson (Sr., LB)
NO. OF PLAYERS IN TOP 25: 4
PROJECTED FINISH: 4-7
Follow Friday’s action live on Twitter via the hashtag #ROBCOFB and be on the look out for The Robesonian’s 16-page football tab appearing in Thursday’s print edition.
PEMBROKE — Tear it up and throw it away.
Purnell Swett’s seniors aren’t letting the final chapter in their high school football careers close the way last season ended.
“Last year just wasn’t a typical year for Swett football,” Swett coach Mark Heil said on his team’s 2-8 showing. “There’s no specific reason, but we got waxed. It felt like by the mid-second quarter of every game, we were waving the white flag. But we never quit and it always meant something. We’re preaching that same never quit attitude to our seniors.”
Heil, who is closing in on 30 years as a head coach, doesn’t pull punches when placing blame on last season’s debacle. The Rams were anemic with the football, managing less than 10 first downs per contest with more turnovers than the program’s two previous campaigns combined.
“That’s the worst offensive football team I’ve ever coached,” Heil said. “We couldn’t get a first down in the second half against Pinecrest up by a touchdown. We’ve got some kids in the program that are really raw and tough, so we’re hoping those guys can help us out.”
When the offseason began shortly after the Rams saw a three-year winning streak snapped in the ‘Backyard Brawl’ against Lumberton in the finale, Swett’s mentality changed. Pembroke’s marquee event on Friday nights was losing its luster as the place to be for members of the community.
Tops on the priority list was getting back to what makes football at Swett so dynamic.
The game needed to mean something again.
“It was a terrible feeling, heartbreaking really, knowing we had eight months to think about what went wrong last year,” said senior captain Tyler Maynor. “We knew we were much better than what we showed. Everybody (on the team) cares more now and we aren’t going down without a fight.”
His program’s attitude adjustment was the silver lining says Heil, the bright spot during an otherwise mentally-grueling stretch during the spring that included a couple transfers and two possible impact players deciding not to come out for football.
“The kids are hungry and they’re playing with fire in their eyes,” Heil said. “I saw it our first practice and I saw it last week. The ones that want to be here are playing with intensity and that’s all I ask.”
For the first time in a few seasons, there’s competition at quarterback between Jordan Brooks and Thristian Lowry. Each delivers different strengths when the Rams have the football according to Heil. Maynor’s the top receiving threat for both passers on the outside who may also get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways on defense and in the return game.
“I think we have some good weapons (on offense), but they need to become more consistent,” Heil said. “We could be okay on that side, but it remains to be seen.”
Former All-American UNCP linebacker Adam Deese has been promoted to defensive coordinator and will be calling the plays in Swett’s 4-2-5 base this season. Deese is one of three Braves on Swett’s staff joining Travis Williams and Adrain Williams.
Deese says he expects big things from Swett’s defensive line, a group that’s veteran-heavy with size and speed.
“Adam’s a disciplinarian and the kids love him,” Heil said. “If I had to give a plus for us, I’d say it’s our coaching staff.”
The Rams open with Pine Forest on Friday before traveling to Red Springs on Aug. 29. There’s no “gimmes” on the 2013 slate.
“The schedule’s tough, but we aren’t making excuses,” Heil said. “It’s up to these guys to go out there and give it their all.”
Added senior linebacker Chuck Oxendine: “We’re taking this season on a week to week basis. We aren’t thinking about Red Springs right now. We’ve got to play Pine Forest first.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS or using the hashtag #ROBCOFB.