High School Sports

August 12, 2014

Clover Blue Eagles optimistic, ready to pound the football

Optimism is high this fall for the run-centric Clover Blue Eagles, who return nearly their entire front seven on offense.

The last impression the 2013 Clover Blue Eagles left on the York County community was a narrow 13-10 loss to one of the better teams in the state, the rival York Cougars. Coach Chad Smith, who was wrapping up his first season at Clover, said the Blue Eagles were building something and it would produce positive results in a hurry.

It has been nine months since their season ended, and what Smith has seen from his players in preseason practices and scrimmages has only increased that belief.

“Honestly, this team might have the best attitude of any team I’ve coached,” he said Tuesday. “And the community has been great since Day One. I think being one play away from beating one of the best teams in the state definitely helped the community perspective.”

Clover football has won before and won big. It was just seven years ago that the Blue Eagles won the 4A Division II state title. Since then, the program has had to endure two head coaches leaving, some off-the-field troubles, and in the past three seasons, not many wins. Smith isn’t the only one who thinks better days are ahead.

“Clover is definitely a football town,” senior tight end Barrett Courtwright said. “So it’s always going to be hyped up. Everybody is going to be ready for us to succeed this season.”

Most fans focus on the “skill players” on offense such as quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. When asked about his offense, however, Smith went straight to the “hog mollies” up front, or the offensive line.

“Our leaders on the offensive side of the ball are the offensive line,” Smith said. “Basically our entire line is back, except center. And we’ve got a kid that’s extremely quick that we’ve moved in there in Gavin Jenkins.”

That is just what you would expect from a team that is old-school in its approach. In an era where many teams just want to spread opponents out and go wide open and fast-paced while throwing it all over the field, Smith and Clover want to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense.

“Our three team captains are Barrett Courtwright, Harrison Gibson and Coby Hamblen. They bring a blue-collar approach that we have to bring to be competitive here. They’re very physical and we feed off of them.”

That is a role that Gibson, an offensive tackle, embraces.

“We’re the older guys on the offense,” Gibson said. “We have to take the role as leaders of the team and push the team forward.”

Starting at quarterback will be junior Noah Lindsay.

“He brings more of a running threat to the table,” Smith said. “But he can throw it, too.”

On defense, the back end is a strength with safeties R.J. Moore, Hamblen and Remington Lambert.

“In that 4-2 look, they stir the drink and make things go,” said Smith, who went 1-10 in his first season as Clover’s coach. “They’ve been very physical thus far.”

Hamblen said there was a big difference from the first game last year to the York game, and from the York game to now.

“Everyone is more excited about this season, instead of anxious,” he said.

And he knows one thing that will make a difference sooner than later.

“Something that is a lot different is we are holding each other accountable a lot more. We know each other’s best, so that’s all we want to see. If somebody doesn’t want to listen everybody tells them to straighten up.”

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