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August 25, 2010

Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes head coach Chris Miller has helped build one of the top programs in the country. And he didn't do it by ducking opponents.

In fact, for the second consecutive season, he'll head into a nationally televised game as an underdog when his team, ranked No. 46 in the RivalsHigh Top 100, hosts No. 8 Hoover (Ala.) High, Saturday afternoon.

"It is an experience for all the kids," Miller said. "It is interesting, it is drastic, and it is an excellent experience. We are all excited."

Just maybe a bit undermanned though.

As if the graduation of five-star running back Marcus Lattimore, four-star studs Corey Miller and Brandon Willis and another handful of Division I football players wasn't enough, the team now has to deal with a rash of injuries and juvenile behavior that will keep its top three pass catchers on the sideline.

The Rebels will go into the game without 6-foot-6 tight end Craig Weick, who is out with a knee injury, and sparkplug slot receiver Tony Hillman, who will miss the entire season with an ACL injury.

To add insult to injury, promising sophomore Akia Booker will also miss the game because of what Miller called "disciplinary reasons."

The situation will leave the Rebels relying on its junior backup quarterback Colton Korn, freshman Craig McGham, and Trey Barron to fill in at wide receiver.

The situation, especially with Booker, is admittedly tough, but Miller knows his opponent will not take it easy or feel sorry for them.

"We will just need some kids to step up and play important roles for us," he said. "He (Booker) did it to himself, I didn't make him violate the rules and so he will miss two games because of it."

Miller wouldn't disclose the rule violation other than to say that Booker made a mistake that is going to cost him some time.

The one player who may be in a prime position to show he is ready to step up is new quarterback Zach Blair.

Blair, who earned a two-star ranking with his performance over the summer, has the physical tools to get the job done at the position and the national stage could jumpstart his recruiting process.

"Zach has really embraced the role, but it is a lot different with pads on," Miller said. "We are going to do what we are good at, and that is throwing the ball. Even with some kids going down, we will see soon who worked hard over the summer."

Hoover - which knows all about Byrnes' history - knows it can't take it lightly.

"They are a great program," Buccaneer coach Josh Niblett said. "They have a lot of pride and tradition, but so do we. This is a great experience for our team and something I know this community has wanted an opportunity to take on for awhile."

Hoover gained national notoriety under its former coach Rush Propst and the MTV series, "Two-A-Days." But the team and the coaching staff has distanced itself from the days of sound bytes, screaming and scandals, moving instead toward mutual respect and growing together as a unit.

Niblett, who played under Gene Stallings, is tough but fair. He expects his players to hold themselves to the same high standards.

The best example of the new mentality at Hoover is with its fastest rising prospect, Jaylon Denson.

Denson went from being an unheralded role player who was sitting behind other Division I athletes to a player who got serious about football and made a national emergence in the Rivals250 as a four-star player.

The roster for Hoover is littered with hard-working players.

Some of them, including quarterback Ryan Carter, linebacker Teyrence Glaze and linemen Blake Burks and Max Elliot also could end up as Division I athletes.

Others know that the time at Hoover may be their last in the spotlight and they embrace that role.

"We want our tough guys to get tougher, our fast guys to get faster," Niblett said. "We truly appreciate the exposure and the recognition we get, but we need to make every effort to get better and earn it too."

Interestingly, Byrnes may be the one in greater need of recognition. After all, it fell to Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas in its national game last season. And while it has handful of state title trophies in its case, it fell in the final in 2009. And it's not the top team in a loaded South Carolina this year. It may need a victory to rebuild its reputation.

It won't come easy - but Miller wouldn't have it any other way.

National GOTW
No. 8 Hoover v No. 46 Byrnes
RIVALS HIGH KEY PLAYERS
HOOVER
QB Ryan Carter (6-2/180, Sr.)
WR Jaylon Denson (6-3/190, Sr.)
LB Teyrence Glaze (5-10/205, Sr.)
LB Tyler Roberts (6-2/209, Sr.)
WR Caleb Sims (5-10/175, Jr.)
BYRNES
QB Zach Blair (6-4/201, Sr.)
RB Shakeem Wharton (5-10/190, Jr.)
WHEN: Saturday 8/28, 12:00 pm
LAST MEETING: First ever meeting
STANDINGS: Hoover (Ala.) High (0-0); No. 1 in Alabama
Duncan (S.C) Byrnes (0-0); No. 2 in South Carolina

BYRNES WINS IF: It can be balanced and let junior running back Shakeem Wharton be an impact player. While the Rebels are down a number of players, the temptation to either force the run or stay too true to the pass could be an early downfall. Former head coach and now offensive coordinator Bobby Bentley will need to find a solid mix. Defensively, Andre Brewton will need to elevate his game to match the level of his talking - and bring his teammates with him. The defense may be needed more than ever. Getting key stops and a turnover would go a long way to making that happen.

HOOVER WINS IF: It doesn't make costly mistakes. In every sport, going on the road is tough and this long road trip could be taxing on the players. Both teams are very confident, but Hoover has the clear edge in talent and it needs to allow the game play out and not force too much. Quarterback Ryan Carter has shown plenty of touch on the ball, and between Denson and Caleb Sims, the opportunities to throw will be there - so long as he does not force it. The secondary (which if you had to pick a weakness on Hoover, that's where it is) gets a reprieve, but those kids need to make sure they don't fall asleep at the wheel. Stacking eight in the box will not be out of the question to put pressure on Byrnes' passing game by stuffing the run.

PREDICTION: This game will not be a track meet. Neither of these teams have the horses for that. It actually benefits Byrnes to let Hoover dictate the game to them and slow it down and hang around. If Hoover is able to put points on the board early, it could end up as a head-hanger for Byrnes trying to keep up. Fundamental play is the key for Hoover. Forcing and capitalizing on mistakes is the object for Byrnes. For the first game between the two teams, Hoover heads home happy. - Hoover 27, Byrnes 17.

-- For more on Byrnes visit SCVarsity.com

Game of the Week Predictions: 1-0 (10-5 in '09)

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