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John Paul II grows football program

  • Liz Bloom/Jasper County Sun Times - Rising junior Zachariah Doe transferred into John Paul II this year from Hilton Head Christian Academy. Doe, a running back and safety, said the culture of the program is unlike any he’s ever been a part of and it’s contagious.
  • Liz Bloom/Jasper County Sun Times - JPII head coach Kevin Wald closes out spring practice calling for a huddle and prayer.
  • Liz Bloom/Jasper County Sun Times - JPII’s biggest offseason progress is in the growth in size and mental strength of their lines. Wald said they’ve started fielding some players weighing in at 230 pounds.
  • Liz Bloom/Jasper County Sun Times - Former THA football coach Philip Rhodes jumped over to John Paul last season and is now the team’s offensive and defensive line coach.
  • Liz Bloom/Jasper County Sun Times - Wald likes to run a single back spread offense with a run first mentality, but his now older players are able to balance an aerial attack offense with a strong run game.

John Paul II is slowly climbing up the ranks in SCISA. After strong basketball and soccer seasons, the Golden Warriors football team is ready to jump forward.

When the Catholic school opened in 2013, the program initially competed in eight-man football. Last season was its first in 11-man, and the team competed in Region 2-A and went 0-10.

The winless season didn’t hinder the program’s ability to bring out players; instead the Golden Warriors have upped their roster from 18 last fall to 32 kids this spring.

“Our numbers are up, but we still have a lot of inexperience. We’re continuing to teach them the basics of the game, and right now we’re still in the infancy stages of this program — still trying to get the players developed and get them up to speed,” coach Kevin Wald said during spring practice last week.

Before the team hits the field, Wald puts them through weightlifting drills. His team is still young, and he’s working to develop not just the players’ football knowledge, but also their strength and athleticism.

Wald’s system and philosophy centers on building strong men, he said. The players don’t joke around at the water cooler and don’t walk to drills or in and out of the huddle. Everything is on a run.

Morale is high, and the culture surrounding the team and the school is what led Hardeeville native Zachariah Doe to transfer from Hilton Head Christian.

“I saw Coach Wald was a really good coach, and I wanted to join his team when I heard he came here. It’s (JPII) welcoming; I enjoy being with them,” Doe said.

Doe will play running back and safety for the Golden Warriors. Despite only participating at John Paul for six practices, his skills and leadership have already left impressions on his teammates and coaching staff.

“He’s a kid that doesn’t matter if you’re at a public school or a private school, he’s a kid that you’re fortunate enough to coach about once every 10 years. What he’s brought to the table and how he’s stepped up and become a leader, he’s brought a lot to us,” Wald said.

Doe is one of about four kids who have switched to John Paul for the upcoming year. Wald said other parents and players have come to tour the school, and he expects a couple of more additions this summer.

“We are better than we were last year at this time. Our goals are simple: continue to get better every day. The wins will take care of themselves,” Wald said. “Football is two things: It’s blocking and tackling, and we got to keep working on those things. Dubs are going to come and when dubs come we will continue to draw more athletes and then its only a matter of time until we’re dressing 40-plus kids. Make no mistake, that is my goal: region titles and state titles.”

Right now the mentality is to get better, stronger, and be competitive. Wald has seen improvement in all aspects of the team, especially his offensive line, but he’s unsure that improvement will translate on the field. The team is filled with potential for a competitive second Region 2-A season, but potential doesn’t necessarily reflect performance. Wald’s content on making strides, developing players and laying the foundation.

Wald’s offensive philosophy features the familiar Pistol, one-back spread system. But instead of relying on passing, he’s going to run first.

“A lot of people spread you out to throw it; I’m gonna spread you out to run it. My preference is to run it 70 percent of the time and throw it 30 percent, but I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Wald said. “We want to be a run-first team. Nyleem (Wright), we feel like we can use his athleticism on sweeps, end-arounds, bubble screens, things like that out in the open space.”

The Golden Warriors plan to host 7-on-7 competitions next month and hope to start their preseason this summer the same as the spring: focused.

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