To exorcise the memories of last year’s 0-11 football campaign, Clover’s new football coach, Chad Smith, held a mass burning of the Blue Eagles’ game film DVDs in front of his players. A No. 12 jersey was thrown in for good measure just to hammer home the point.
“We told the kids, ‘we’re starting brand-spanking new,’ ” Smith said Monday. “I don’t care what happened in the past, I don’t care if you ever played. Our kids had such bad habits that we’re having to change that.”
Smith, who arrived this year from Easley High, where he rebuilt a downtrodden Green Wave program, has his work cut out to get the 2007 state champions back to a competitive level.
“Right now we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be,” Smith said, before adding, “but not where we want to be. But we will get there.”
His energy and enthusiasm encourage fans and players to give the program the support and participation it needs. A number of players that sat out the past few years for a variety of reasons have returned to the team, a critical development considering the lack of depth the Blue Eagles suffered from last season. Smith, 33, has been combing the halls for any and everyone who can play.
“That’s part of my job,” he said. “You’ve got to get kids out to play for you.”
If Smith is lucky, he’ll find some stoppers among the new players. Clover graduates eight defensive starters from a unit that didn’t slow many opposing offenses. The Blue Eagles surrendered an average of 45 points per game, and their best defensive effort was holding Lancaster to 26 in a five-point loss.
The school’s most important recruits have come on the defensive sideline where Smith hired four new defensive coaches, all of whom have been head coaches or defensive coordinators at big schools in the past couple of years.
Chris Bunting, former head coach at St. Stephens in Hickory, N.C., will take over as the team’s defensive coordinator.
Starters lost: 3 offense, 8 defense
Leaving in June: Much of the defense will graduate, including JeVaughn Starr, Javon Blake, Kevis Adams and several other starters on that side of the ball. C.J. Woods also departs; he was one of the team’s primary ball carriers last season, and the Blue Eagles will also have to do without strong-legged kicker Evan Edmunds.
Back in August: Clover had a large number of sophomores thrust into key roles last season, but that should benefit the team this season.
Smith had high praise for running back Ladarius Adams, who will be a senior this fall. He said Adams is as talented “a running back as I have had,” high praise considering Smith’s running back at Easley, C.J. Fuller, is committed to Clemson.
“Ladarius might not have the top-end speed that C.J. has, but he’s just as good a running back,” Smith said.
Scott Jackson and Nate Morrison are competing for the starting quarterback job, while Smith has been impressed early by the Blue Eagles’ pair of tight ends, Ben Forbes and Landon Harkey, who have a big job to do as blockers.
Zach Conrad, a sophomore who won the 215-pound Upper State wrestling championship this winter, will likely pull double duty at fullback and noseguard.
Corey Parham, a rising senior, and Owen Jefferies will be two players Smith hopes can help improve a porous defense.
McCormick • 329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T