Sure, the Cyclones lost do-everything QB Malik Williams to college football but this Chester outfit is poised to be one of the school’s best since Victor Floyd’s first stint with the school 10 years ago.
Senior John Erby takes the reins at quarterback, in large part because of his leadership and athleticism. But he can also spin the football, which should prevent opponents from stacking the box to stop 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior running back Pha’Leak Brown. Due to splitting snaps and playing different positions the last two years, Brown hasn’t yet registered 100 carries in a season. Floyd said that will change “real quick” this fall.
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Brown and Erby will have plenty of blocking help with four out of five offensive linemen returning (only one of which is a senior) and a talented receiving corps including Quay Hardin - who also excels in the defensive secondary - T.J. Hollis, Terrence Mills and 6-foot-2, 190-pound newcomer Jared Dixon.
Chester has to replace the more than 30 sacks that graduated with defensive ends Radarrius Wright and Ethan McGriff. But the Cyclones ended last season with positive momentum despite an overtime loss in the second round of the playoffs and they look prepared to take another leap in 3A football this season.
Coach: Victor Floyd, 3rd year (81-65)
Assistant coaches: Tim Boyd, co-defensive coordinator, inside linebackers; Ricky Campbell, co-defensive coordinator, defensive backs; Jerry Caldwell, outside linebackers; Charlie Richards, defensive line; Chris Dodson, offensive line; R.J. Canty, wide receivers; Mario Hughes, JV defensive coordinator.
Last season: 9-3, lost in the second round of the 3A playoffs
Last 5 years: 25-30, 2 playoff appearances
Playoff wins last 5 years: 3
Returning starters: 16 (7 offense, 9 defense)
Key number: 6 - Chester only has six seniors on its roster, a positive sign for the next two years at least. The Cyclones only had eight seniors last year.
Weakness: In many ways, Chester’s 2017 roster looks very similar to last year’s. One negative similarity is a lack of depth in the trenches. The Cyclones should be solid on the o-line but don’t have a ton of quality backups, and the d-line is replacing quality starters with promising athletes that are unproven on Friday nights.
Strength: Chester has game-breakers at the offensive skill positions. Floyd has a six-man rotation at receiver and thinks Dixon, a junior, will be a breakout player, while Brown and Erby should be an effective duo in the backfield. Hardin is a talented ball-hawk in the secondary that can inflict damage playing offense, too.
Coachspeak: “We were a young group last year and we lost three games, three games that we were leading in the fourth quarter of all three. We’ve just got to finish games. That’s been a concentration in the offseason.”
Key returning players: Jr. RB Pha’Leak Brown, Soph. CB Zion Mills; Jr. WR Terrance Mills; Sr. QB John Erby, Sr. DB/WR Quay Hardin, Sr. WR T.J. Hollis, Sr. LB LaDarius Foster; Jr. OL Keith Boyd; Sr. OL Montez Hall; LB Rollo Hall, Jr. OL Wyatt Tunall, Soph. OL Daniel Elkins, Soph. LB Stan Mills.
August: 18 Westwood; 25 Franklin Christian
September: 1 Keenan; 8 at Lancaster; 15 Lower Richland; 22 Carolina Pride; 29 at Indian Land
October: 6 Columbia; 13 at Camden; 20 Fairfield Central; 27 Bye
- Chester’s opponents won 38 percent of their games in 2016 (41-68) and included four playoffs teams.