FORT MILL — It seems to get tougher for the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets every year.
They were in Class AAA last year, and coach Ed Susi believed his team would make the playoffs and fare better than its 4-6 record. But the Yellow Jackets were in a region with South Pointe, which won its second state championship in six seasons.
This year, Fort Mill moved back to Class AAAA and was added to Region 3, which includes South Pointe, traditional powers Northwestern and Rock Hill, a York team rising to the top, Lancaster, Clover and Nation Ford. Doesnt get much harder for any of the eight teams.
And on top of that, Fort Mill graduated an outstanding quarterback and a running back who could play every skill position on the field. Expect a lot of freshmen to be sprinkled in with the returning upperclassmen.
Our numbers are up and a lot better, coach Susi said. We have 30 to 40 freshmen, and it could be the best class Ive had here. Its the process of sports working out. Since we were split when Nation Ford opened, its finally starting to even out numbers-wise.
Rylan Wells will be our quarterback and he runs the option well. Weve got good skills players in our offensive backfield. We have to build a strong defense and keep our opponents from scoring.
Susi said its a given that the offensive line is the teams strongest unit. With four starters back, he called it the teams backbone.
The four holdovers are seniors: guard Cooper Clegg (6-foot, 290), center Ryan Tankersley (6-1, 220), guard Zach Dulcie (5-11, 235) and Scott DeMayo (6-0. 230). And, Susi pointed out, several of the younger linemen tip the scales at 300-plus pounds and will play because the four returnees also start on defense.
We have been best friends since we were freshmen, DeMayo said. We room together at camp and do mostly everything together. Having those three around on the field makes my job better.
I know I can depend open them and they know they can depend on me. If something goes wrong, one of us tries to cover the mistake so the play doesnt break down. We have been asked to be leaders this season and one of our jobs is to get the new linemen ready ... take them into our family.
Its a given that offensive linemen rarely make game stories on Saturday mornings. Jimmy Wallace, former head coach at Northwestern, was an offensive lineman at Rock Hill High School and Appalachian State.
Wallace often said its the hardest and least noticed position on the field.
Its all about accountability on Friday nights; our team motto this season, Clegg said. When you play on the OL, you have to rely on the men lined up beside you.
And we dont care about stats. Those are for the skill people. The only numbers we care about are wins and losses.
So far, Tankerlsey has been impressed with the younger linemen. He said they have a long way to go, but can tell they are learning more every practice. He and his friends have no problem teaching them and helping them adjust.
They have a lot of potential, he said. Some of them are quick and its been fun working them in. Well have them ready. We use two lines when we go against the offense; one with older players, the other with young guys.
Dulcie expects the Yellow Jackets to be better this year. He believes with the experience up front, Fort Mills speedy offensive players will benefit.
He could be right. Susi said this is the fastest team hes had at Fort Mill.
It all starts in the trenches, and it gets ugly up there, Dulcie said. Thats fine with us because we know how close we were last year.
We lost three region games by 13 points. South Pointe and York beat us by 3, Chester by seven. We had a chance to beat York until they blocked a punt near the end of the game.
Our job is to learn quickly how to finish. Not doing that caused us to make silly mistakes last year. If we can finish games, well have a better record and make the playoffs.
Barry Byers 329-4099