Anthony Sterling often used the word focus last Friday as he discussed the Chester Cyclones’ upcoming season. According to Sterling, it was a lack thereof that turned a promising 2013 campaign into a disappointing 3-7 finish.
That sub-par campaign followed on the heels of a region title in 2012 in which Chester advanced to the third round of the playoffs before bowing out with an overall 8-5 record.
“Mentally we were not focused,” said Sterling, who begins his fifth year as the Cyclones’ head man. “We have to get our guys to focus as a team. We had a couple of guys last year playing as individuals. We were fighting against a lot of things. But you can’t give up on the kids. You have to keep working with them.”
The Cyclones will compete this season in Region 3-3A and Sterling welcomes the challenge.
“We are very excited to be playing in a tough region,” he said. “We have South Pointe and Lancaster moving down from 4A but we are stronger and faster than last year and are hoping for some good things.”
Union County, Clinton, and Broome round out the new-look region.
Chester returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense. The offense will be spearheaded by fourth-year starting quarterback Tommy Sanders, who quickly points out that he is more than ready to erase the bad memory of last season.
“I’m excited about this year,” he said Friday during the team’s season-opening practice. “We are all working hard. Last year was all mental because, physically, we were there. I hope to get better this season and be a leader on this team.”
Sanders is no doubt hoping to improve his passing game from 2013 when he threw for over 1200 yards but had 11 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions, and completed below 40 percent of his pass attempts.
Sterling emphasized he is confident that Sanders, who has recruiting interest from Louisville, Clemson, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Charlotte, will be a leader on the team.
“Tommy is more focused and has grown up to be a man,” Sterling said. “He has taken ownership of this team.”
In an effort to sharpen his team’s mentality Sterling will employ a preseason “lock-in” in which the players will spend three days (Sunday through Tuesday) together at the school, away from any outside distractions. That included handing over cell phones for the duration of the lock-in.
“We want all of them focusing on nothing but football,” Sterling said. “We will be going over schemes and teaching our young guys the attention to detail. We want everyone to gel together. We do not want last year’s situation.”
This season’s imposing schedule, which also includes non-region foes Rock Hill, York, and county rival Lewisviile, will require the Cycs to be in maximum physical condition. That will be especially true for four key players that will spend playing time on both sides of the pigskin. Temaris Dixon (linebacker, tight end), Earl Hinton (running back, cornerback), Keith Feaster (wide receiver and safety), and David Days (linebacker and offensive tackle) will all have double duties.
“I like playing both ways,” said Dixon, another player receiving recruiting interest. “Anything to help the team out. We hope to use last year as our motivation this year to achieve our goals and play each game at 100 percent.”
As a tune-up to the 2014 campaign Chester will have preseason scrimmages against a couple of powerhouses – Northwestern and Dutch Fork – on August 9 and 12.
That brought a smile to Sterling’s face.
“Oh yeah, we go to Northwestern and then go to Dutch Fork. Both are defending state champs, but that will be good work for our guys.”
In order for the Cyclones to compete at a high level this season the onus will likely fall on a defense that surrendered more than 3300 yards and 284 points in 10 games in 2013.
But Sterling sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have some strong young pups,” said Sterling. “And they will have to step up to the plate. We have had great summer workouts. Our strength this year will be our defensive backs. We just want stay healthy and compete at a high level.”
On Aug. 22 the Cyclones hope for a successful 2014 season kick off in Richburg versus the Lewisville Lions.
“We will take things more seriously this year,” Dixon said. “We will be more prepared to get where we want to be.”
Sanders knows exactly where that is: “We got to get back to the playoffs.”