The York Cougars are ranked No. 4 in the season’s first 4A state polls by S.C. Prep Media, their highest ever 4A ranking according to longtime York athletics director and coach Steve Boyd.
Bobby Carroll joked with a Herald reporter Wednesday that he was probably the only one of the 10 or so voters who had seen the Cougars so far this year, but even still, the point remains. The Cougars have developed a level of statewide respect, the product of three straight 10-win campaigns.
“We don’t put a lot of stock in that, but it’s good for the recognition of your school,” Carroll said as he oversaw a steamy-hot practice.
The effort to reach double-digit wins again – or preferably 15 as Boyd said – begins Friday night with a difficult test as defending Big 16 state finalists Sumter come visiting.
The Gamecocks looked set to build on last season’s surprise run to the Big 16 state championship game. Dutch Fork thumped Sumter 54-14 in the championship, holding the upstarts to just 16 total yards of offense, but the fact Sumter even made it to Williams-Brice was a huge positive. Not only had the Gamecocks endured three straight losing seasons prior to 2013, they started last fall 2-5 before heating up as the weather cooled.
Sumter coach Reggie Kennedy told The State newspaper after the game, “It just upped the bar. We’ve got higher standards now. When I first got there, my goal was just to have a winning season, but that’s not the deal anymore. Our goal right now, our standard is to get back here next year.”
But then Kennedy left for Irmo, his third different coaching gig in four seasons, after leaving Blythewood for Sumter in 2013. Sumter administrators didn’t have to look far for a new coach, tapping assistant John Jones as the new man in charge in early June. Sumter, which won state titles in 1969, ’87 and ’90, graduated 20 seniors from last year’s squad. Carroll said he saw an athletic team on the Gamecocks’ film.
The key for York on Friday night, and for the rest of the year, will be turnover margin. The Cougars didn’t cough the ball up much last year, but they didn’t create many giveaways either. Carroll wants his 2014 group to look more like his classic defenses from Northwestern, South Pointe and even York, which had a nasty one in 2012 with a bunch of Division I college football players.
York turned the ball over several times during last Saturday’s scrimmage win over Spartanburg, but offset those miscues by forcing the visitors into several of their own. Winning the turnover margin is one reason Division I receiving prospect Daurice Simpson will be utilized at defensive back much more this fall. He made several leaping interceptions near the sideline Wednesday afternoon that will no doubt have had Carroll grinning.
“The key to the thing is the team that makes the least mistakes,” said the Cougars’ coach. “I know that’s just a cliche but it’s the truth. You can’t turn that football over.”