Clover Blue Eagles are spreading their wings

Speed-based offense has team studying new playbooks

dgantt@heraldonline.comAugust 9, 2011 

  • All games at 7:30 p.m.

    Aug. 19: at South Point N.C.

    Aug. 26: Forestview N.C.

    Sep. 2: Ashbrook N.C.

    Sep. 9: at Fort Mill

    Sep. 16: York

    Sep. 23: Sun Valley N.C.

    Sep. 30: Open

    Oct.7: Gaffney*

    Oct. 14: at Spartanburg*

    Oct. 21: Northwestern*

    Oct. 28: at Rock Hill*

    Nov. 4: at Lancaster*

    * Region games

— Since he was in seventh grade, Clover quarterback Ta Long has prepared to play for coach Jet Turner and run the double-wing offense.

This offseason, he had to adjust to a new coach, a new responsibility and a whole new offense.

"It's a big difference, I'm not going to lie," the junior quarterback said. "It's a whole new thing for all of us."

The Blue Eagles had run some variation of the wing-T for ages, through the youth leagues and junior high levels, to the point kids knew what was coming when they got to high school. But new coach John Devine is installing more of a spread-option attack, and that's a huge adjustment for everyone at Clover.

Devine walked into the job without a clear idea of who'd run it, since practically the entire backfield from last year graduated. Long only got a few odd snaps late in games with the varsity last year, but Devine said he "had adapted the quickest to what we're trying to do," which has given him the edge for the starting job.

Now all they all have to do is learn everything on the fly.

Not only does Long have to adapt to a speed-based attack, he has to learn new terminology from a new coaching staff.

"Everything's different, starting with what we call the plays," Long said. "Ever since I've been playing quarterback, that's all I've known.

"In a way, this is easier, because of what we call the plays, since we use numbers instead of a lot of words, but it's harder in some ways, too."

Long said he has more responsibility, checking play calls at the line of scrimmage based on the defense. They have code words for changing plays at the line of scrimmage which he's had to learn, but mostly, the change is top to bottom.

Devine laughed when asked how his transition's going, after spending the previous 20 years (15 as head coach) at Belmont South Point in North Carolina.

"I'm trying to learn everything," Devine said. "I'm learning names and faces of about 100 new kids. I think I'm over the hump now, but it's taken a while.

"I'm the world's worst with names, but these kids have left an impression on me with their effort."

Devine called the shift to the option-based system "night and day," from what Clover's been calling, but thinks the Blue Eagles can benefit from the change.

"There's no comparison," Devine said. "They read a little, we read a lot. There's a lot of responsibility on the quarterback now to make the right decision.

"This is a thinking man's offense."

Clover had a 70-30 record the past eight seasons under Turner, including a combined 24 wins in 2006 and 2007. But first-round playoff losses the past two years have dimmed some of the optimism around the program.

Devine thinks he can make a quick impact, even though he had only two returning starters on offense, and one of them got hurt over the summer.

That has him relying on the other side, where he counted nine players who had some degree of starting experience.

He mentioned linemen Harley Funderburk, Scott Jeffries and Devin Hutchinson as well as linebackers Jai Littlejohn and Chad Hill along with defensive backs Trey Childress and Des Wright as the guys he's counting on, particularly early in the season.

"No doubt," Devine said. "That's going to have to be the strength of the team, particularly early on. Until we see some live bullets on offense, we're definitely going to be counting on our defense since they have the most experience."

Devine had some degree of familiarity with Clover, since his old mentor Phil Tate (who he replaced as coach at South Point), was a former assistant at Clover. He's also got a number of his old friends from Gaston County on staff here, which helps the transition.

But like the change in offensive styles, he knows he's very much starting from scratch, and hopes his players are ready for a quick transition.

"Hey, we're going to do what we do," Devine said. "These guys did things a certain way for a long time, but we're doing it this way now, and we'll see how quick we can pick it up."

Darin Gantt 803-326-4312

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