CHESTER — Cyclones coach Anthony Sterling is looking forward to a better year after experiencing the growing pains of a rebuilding season.
The Cyclones, who entered last season after a massive graduation of 19 seniors, were the epitome of a young but talented squad. They opened with plenty of promise and a 4-1 record, including impressive wins over Lancaster and Central Pageland, the eventual Class AA Upstate champion.
However, the tough part of the schedule kicked in with South Pointe, York, Nation Ford, Fort Mill, and Fairfield Central all region opponents at that time. Chester struggled to a 1-4 record over that stretch, and therefore, missed the Class AAA playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Unlike last season, Chester returns loads of experience, even though the team is still young with only eight seniors. What was a roster dominated with freshmen and sophomores have moved up a year in class and is ready to benefit from last seasons painful lessons.
We went through our share of growing pains, Sterling said. The team has a different mindset now and is eager to get better. We are now in a more competitive mode and we are ready to go out there and get the job done.
The pains that we experienced from last season are behind us now and we are ready to move forward.
In fact, Sterling revealed the teams motto; O-N-E, which he said is an acronym for, On to a New Era.
Leading the Cyclones into the new era will be talented sophomore quarterback Tommy Sanders, who started every game as a freshman. Sterling said that Sanders has grown physically and mentally and is primed to be one of the areas top signal-callers.
Tommy is a grown man this year. He dedicated himself to plenty of film study; his accuracy and foot work has gotten better. He has also gotten stronger and put on another inch. He is now 6-foot-2, 180 (pounds) and his arm is that much stronger now.
Sanders credits a solid offseason program for his physical and mental maturity. He said that is also the case for the rest of the team.
I stayed in the weight room; that has helped me with my arm and I am throwing the ball much better. I feel better and more confident this year running the offense, Sanders said. I know the offense plays much better.
We will be much better this year as a team on offense and defense because we all have been working hard (in the offseason). We are more experienced and should be much better.
With Sanders being the leader on offense, senior Jemarcus Moore will be the defensive sparkplug.
Moore, who will be a four-year starter, is ranked among the states top college prospects. Sterling names Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Appalachian State, UCLA, and South Carolina State as schools that have shown strong interest in the fleet-footed cornerback.
Chester will also showcase plenty of other explosive playmakers on both sides of the football.
Offensively, tailback Derrell Rambert is the top returning rusher, but sophomores Broderick Roscoe and junior Lorenzo White displayed promise last year. The receivers, said Sterling, possess plenty of speed with sophomores Quan Caldwell, Melvin Jackson, Jarrett Rambert, and Malik McCullough.
The offensive line is huge with the average player tipping the scales near or beyond 300 pounds. Three are returning starters, including sophomore Dekavious Wilmore and David Wright.
The defensive trenches also feature plenty of size and athleticism with Deontre Minter, Matthew Waldrep, Kalil Boulware, and Tamaris Dixon.
Junior linebacker Darryl Foster was a star in the making as the top tackler at midseason before being sidelined with a torn ACL. He is back and is fully healed.
This season, Chester will be aligned in a new region which features traditional upstate powers Union, Clinton, and Woodruff, the latter of which was a Class AA state finalist last season. Broome and Chapman will round out Region 3-AAA.
All are very strong and we cannot afford to take any of these teams lightly, Sterling said. It will not be a cake walk.
Sterling said that playing in last years tough region, which had four teams move up to Class AAAA, should have his squad well prepared for the new league.
Several of Chesters former league foes South Pointe, York, and Fairfield Central will still be on the Cyclones non-region schedule and should provide a good tune-up for league play.
We need these strong teams to challenge us at the beginning of the season; that will have us ready by the team the region rolls around, Sterling said.
Having preached patience to Cyclones fans last season, Sterling is now sending the message that the program will be much better and more exciting. He said that while the team is still young, the pieces are in place for the Cyclones to return to being a legitimate Class AAA state championship contender.