The Northwestern Trojans have been familiarizing themselves with Gaffney High School’s football program all week, right down to the fight song. The Indians use the “Tomahawk Chop,” much like Florida State or the Atlanta Braves, and it was that droning tune blasted repeatedly from a loudspeaker at Northwestern’s practice Thursday afternoon.
Trojans coach Kyle Richardson felt his team was over-awed by the Indians in last season’s 49-20 loss to Gaffney, a product of their relative youth due to losing 35 seniors from 2010’s state title team. Richardson doesn’t expect that to be an issue this year.
“Last year we played with a lot of sophomores, and even a freshman, so the inexperience really hurt us going into the big environment playing Gaffney,” said Richardson. “We’re going to do a better job this year of overcoming the Gaffney mystique before we even get there.”
So there was the Tomahawk Chop engraining itself into the Trojans’ brains all week, one of Richardson’s efforts to acclimate his team to the hostile atmosphere it will face Friday. The Indians’ home turf, The Reservation, is as inhospitable to visitors as it comes, and Dan Jones’ team only heightens the difficulty of the visit. The Indians won their first 14 games last season, only to lose to Byrnes in the AAAA Upper State Championship game.
Gaffney graduated several studs from that team, including quarterback Joey Copeland and receiver Quinshad Davis, but they return enough talent to be ranked top-five in the state by most polls.
Gaffney’s defensive front has drawn plenty of attention from Northwestern’s coaching staff. Indians defensive end Jaylen Miller is a 6-foot-3, 260-pound pass rusher drawing a bevy of scholarship offers, including, but not limited to, LSU, Florida, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest. Nose tackle Ty Byars is a force in the middle, tipping the scales at around 330 pounds, while Rod Oglesby is another end drawing college scouts.
They present an intimidating front. But Northwestern, a year wiser, plans to take care of business at The Reservation regardless.
“One of our goals is to win the business trips,” said Richardson, whose team went 5-3 in road games last year. “Our road games we consider business trips. It’s not to go have fun, it’s not to see a new city, it’s a business trip. And the business is playing the football game and winning it.”
Business or fun, this is the kind of game that coaches and players live for. Internet high school football forums were chock full of smack talk between the two fan bases, while Thursday’s interview with The Herald was Richardson’s 10th in the last two days, indicative of the attention the Week Zero matchup is attracting.
There were probably a million things rushing through Richardson’s head as he headed out for practice in the afternoon sun. Everywhere he went he spread the day’s mantra: “Perfect Thursday.” “We’re just trying to perfect everything we’ve been doing Monday through Thursday,” he said. “Give them a good feeling for when they go into the game.”
Any of the Trojan players would tell you they’ve heard that Gaffney fight song enough this week. The expectation is for the week’s preparation to lead to a perfect start to Northwestern’s 2012 season on Friday night.
Bret McCormick 329-4032.