CHESTER — The bar has been set high for the Chester Cyclones this season.
Having gone from worst to first, the defending Region 4-AAA champions have built expectations to take another step beyond the third round of the state playoffs, where the season ended with a road loss to Daniel.
Led by six returning starters on both sides of the ball, Chester is considered to be a legitimate state championship threat.
Daryl Foster, the team’s captain who is one of several major college prospects, said that anything less would not be accepted.
“No lower than the state,” Foster said without hesitation. “We have expectations to be there. As captain, I want to set the example with hard work and dedication and to do whatever it takes,” to become a championship team.
“As one of the team’s leaders, it is important to set the example for others to follow.”
Cyclone coach Anthony Sterling likes that display of confidence. However, he is quick to focus on the more immediate expectation of getting better as the season approaches.
“It is our goal to take it one week at a time; we have to focus on executing fundamentals, limit mistakes and always maintain focus,” Sterling said.
“We are going in as defending champions, and if we want to maintain that level of winning the region again, we have to be consistent and we have to be dedicated to putting in hard work.
“Our minds have to be focused on doing things the right way.”
Chester, 8-5 last season, did lose five seniors who signed scholarships. However, the Cyclones are still led by Division-I prospects, including linebacker Daryl Foster, who bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season to become the team’s top tackler with more than 100 stops.
Foster, 6-1, 225-pounds, is said to be getting looks from South Carolina, Clemson, Mississippi State and Michigan to lead the list of top programs. Also gaining attention from college scouts is offensive lineman DeKeavis Wilmore, 6-4, 350 pounds, who is being recruited by Mississippi State, Appalachian State and Marshall.
“He was at 375 pounds, but has dropped to 350 after the off-season workouts,” Sterling said. “He is working to get ever lower than that.”
Wilmore is one of three returning starters on the offensive line, who will be crucial to the team’s progress. Running back Lorenzo White, who rushed for 1,085 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, will ignite the ground game, while receiver Quan Caldwell, who also serves as the backup quarterback, returns as the top receiver.
Tommie Sanders, a two-year starter, will once again be the focal point of the Cyclone offense at quarterback. Sanders displayed considerable improvements from an inconsistent freshman year with decision making, throwing and using quick feet to manufacture big plays.
Sterling expects Sanders to be even better this year.
“What we have done offensively is to make things simpler and Tommie has gotten better with reads. This will allow Tommie to continue to be athletic and not have to think so much. He has a strong arm, but he also has the ability to run the football.”
Defensively, Chester returns four starters on the interior line while two linebackers will join Foster back in the lineup.
Sterling is also counting on key newcomers such as Tamaris Dixon, who will contribute on the offensive and defensive lines; TJ Graham who will handle the snaps at center; Earl Hinton and John Gore at receivers; and junior Broderick Roscoe, who will see an increasing role at running back.
Sterling said that the Cyclones have the weapons to be more diversified offensively behind the dual-threat talents of Sanders; and the quickness and physicality to be even stronger defensively.
“We have the personnel and we expect to get even better than we were last season,” Sterling said.
“We have everything in place to be successful and take it to another level. But the key will be our ability to get better on a weekly basis and to show consistency.
“We have already had four good days of practice, and we are just focused on taking one week at a time.”