The Sun Valley football team has a great shot at redemption this year.
The offensive core returns from a team that finished 10-3 but lost the Southern Carolina Conference championship to Porter Ridge, 27-20, in the regular-season finale.
The Spartans were rolling, entering the Porter Ridge game at 9-1, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.
"Last year we had a great shot at it, but Porter Ridge beat us fair and square," said head coach Scott Stein. "We have a lot of talent coming back and have spent the summer thinking about how last year ended."
The keys to the offense are wide receiver-wingback Jody Fuller, a 6-foot, 200-pound University of South Carolina signee whom national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming recently named the No. 10 wingback in the country. Quarterback Ryan Smith, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, will steer the ship, but how far the Spartans go ultimately depends on JaDarius Williams.
"JaDarius is lightning in a bottle," said Stein. "That is the best way to describe him.
"People don't respect his strength as much as they should, and he is so quick and so fast. He is explosive."
If opposing coaches were planning for Williams before, he hardly noticed. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back has been ripping through defenses at an incredible pace.
Williams has won the last two SCC Player of the Year awards. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,533 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last year he improved to 1,800 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns to go with 400 yards and two touchdowns receiving.
What about this year?
"I think a good starting point would be at least 30 touchdowns and 2,000 yards. I was shooting for 2,000 last year but didn't quite get there," Williams said.
Stein said Williams is the fastest player on the team, but put a ball in his hands and he goes into another gear.
"When I have the ball in my hands it is something different for me," Williams said. "I love making people miss, and the best part is their face when they realize I got them."
"I have always been the smallest guy coming up, and that has driven me," he said. "I put my work in during the off-season. I have an advantage because of it. When it is late in the game and everyone is getting tired, I am ready because I have already put the work in."
The Spartans all put work in this summer, with 105 players at camp at UNC Pembroke, where they bunked two to a room. Williams said the camp helped build unity and will help erase the memory of last year.
"I think we were all disappointed in the way last year ended. I really thought we could go all the way, but we have another chance - something not everyone gets," said Williams.
The Spartans kick off their season against two state powerhouses, at Richmond County on Aug. 19 and hosting Mallard Creek on Aug. 26.
Williams will be the center of attention for teams trying to stop the Spartans. After getting his academics in order, he also is becoming a target for college coaches.
He was named to the 2011 Carolina Gridiron All-American team that features the best area players and has received scholarship offers from East Carolina and Middle Tennessee State, while drawing interest from Clemson, Ball State and Aransas as well.