From Midlands High School Sports.com. Visit often for updates during the season!
By Emerson Phillips
Longtime Irmo head football coach Bob Hanna retired this past offseason. New head coach Reggie Kennedy now guides the tradition-rich Yellow Jackets’ program. Kennedy has won everywhere he’s coached. And because his approach has been successful in the past, it will not change at Irmo.
“Everybody’s buying in,” Kennedy said. “One of things I’ve done is try to keep the terminology as close as possible to last year. So I try to make the transition more than the kids. One thing I tell our coaches is that we do the thinking, and the kids do the playing.”
Last year Kennedy led Sumter to the state championship game after the Gamecocks had gotten off to a bit of a slow start to begin the season. Kennedy knows Irmo’s history, and he’s driven to maintain it.
“Our #1 goal is to win a state championship every year,” Kennedy said. “First we want to have a winning season. We want to win the region championship. And we want to win the state championship.”
But is winning the state championship a realistic goal in Kennedy’s first year at Irmo?
“I believe we have a chance,” he said. “You have to get hot at the right time. Our practices are designed to keep the kids fresh. Sometime you can burn kids out by midseason. They get tired of football. A lot of times, kids hear the first basketball bounce and they’re ready to head to the gym. The way we do practice, we keep the fire burning all season. By the time the playoffs start, our guys are still having fun and they’re still fresh. Our practices are designed to keep the kids fresh.”
Irmo has a solid group of returning players, but Kennedy says he and his staff will have to develop some less-experienced players as the season goes along for Irmo to meet that lofty goal.
“We’ve got a lot of potential here,” Kennedy said. “We’re gonna be young up front. We have some experience at the skill positions. We can match up with a lot of folks at the skill positions. But we gotta have consistent play at quarterback, and we gotta get better up front. D-line we’re a little undersized, but we’re really athletic. We can run. And the style of defense we’ll play is a running defense. It’s the same defense (Irmo) ran last year.”
“Our leader will be Manny Banks, our wide receiver,” Kennedy continued. “Good kid, good runner. Hard worker. He’s getting better. The biggest thing is he needs to learn how to separate from DBs, and he’s getting better at that. He’s picked up a lot over the summer.” Banks (5-11, 180) already has an offer from Georgia State, and Georgia Southern is showing interest.
Senior quarterback Anthony Jones (5-10, 170) suffered a leg fracture last year and missed most of the season. But now he’s healthy, and he’s battling for the starting job with junior Mason Smith (5-10, 180), who started at QB for the JV team last year. Kennedy says Jones is more of a runner, while Smith is more of a passing threat. But there isn’t likely to be a platoon situation at quarterback.
“I like to go with one guy,” Kennedy said. “Platoon doesn’t work for me, I always have back luck with that,” he said with a chuckle.
Kennedy’s excited about his starting running back, junior Ronnie Jamison (6-1, 185). “He’s got the potential to be one of the best backs in the Midlands this year,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy says sophomore slot receiver Jeffrey Thorpe has been impressive during preseason practice. “He’s surprised us,” Kennedy said. “He’s real good in space. Quick. He can catch the ball real well. He’ll probably be a starter.”
Senior AJ Robinson (6-0, 265) returns at center. “He’ll be our leader on the offensive line.”
Kennedy says his linebackers are the strength of the defense. Senior Juwan Freeman MLB (5-10, 190) is a second-year starter. Joe Boyd (5-11, 200) will start at inside linebacker.
Junior free safety Philip Barrett is the leader of the secondary. Junior Nicholas Jenkins played JV last year and will start at cornerback.
“We’ll play by platoon on the defensive line,” Kennedy said.
Irmo should be solid on special teams. Kennedy places extra emphasis on that aspect of the game. “Our kids know we take special teams seriously. We work on it every day in practice. We want to score on special teams.”
Kennedy’s a proven winner, and his success is due in no small part to the fact that he excels at relating to today’s younger generation.
“A lot of that comes with building relationships away from the field,” he said. “Kids have changed over the years. You just have to find different ways to communicate with them. You get to know kids and find out a lot about their character when you’re dealing with them off the field. So I make it a point to talk to my guys off the field.”
Let the Kennedy era begin at Irmo.