High School Sports

Spotlight shifts to some of Chester's lesser-known stars

Chester's Travis Tolliver is one of many Cyclones you might not have heard of, but the team wouldn't be where they are without them.
Chester's Travis Tolliver is one of many Cyclones you might not have heard of, but the team wouldn't be where they are without them.

CHESTER -- Chester has its share of star players, but top-to-bottom, this might be the best Cyclones football team in school history.

That will cause debate because the 1963 team went 11-2 and won a state championship. This year's edition of the Cyclones is also 11-2, but must win two more games to claim Chester's first title in 45 years.

First the Cyclones have to beat Union County at home Friday in the Class AAA Upper State championship, then beat the winner from the Lower State -- Crestwood or Wilson -- at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

They have a good chance to do both.

Coaches like clichés, one of the favorites being -- "This was a total team effort.'' It's vastly overused, but in this case it fits the bill.

Coach Victor Floyd's team has been getting contributions across the board. Good things are expected out of quarterback Gene McCaskill, committed to play wide receiver at Kentucky, cornerback Terrell Springs, committed to UAB and multi-purpose athlete C.C. Whitlock, who can pick his school.

But have you heard about Bobby Jackson, Travis Tolliver, Jeremy Hughes and brothers Mike and Deshawn Walker? The folks in Chester have.

Jackson, the noseguard, become a starter in the fourth game. He has 29 tackles.

Mike Walker is a 165-pound inside linebacker and leads the team in tackles. Defensive coordinator Will Mitchell says they have to tape him back together every Monday before practice.

Deshawn Walker (5-foot-6, 180) starts at left offensive tackle.

"We have a lot of players who contribute,'' Mitchell said. "Every week someone different seems to step up and make a big play, like in our two games against Fairfield Central.

"In the first one, Jeremy Hughes caught a TD pass because our better-known receivers were covered. In our playoff against them, Travis Tolliver had been out with pneumonia but we put him in late in the game. He made the game-winning tackle on fourth-and-3.''

It's been like that all season.

• 10 Cyclones have scored TDs

• Nine have caught a TD pass

• Eight have run for a TD

• Eight have more than 100 yards rushing

• Seven have more than 100 yards receiving

• Six have more than 10 catches

• 10 have 30 or more tackles

• 17 have at least one tackle for a loss

• 12 have at least one sack

• 10 have recovered fumbles

• Eight have interceptions

• Six have blocked kicks

"We were fooling around and when we put those numbers together all of our coaches said, 'Wow,''' Mitchell said. "Our three big-time kids have done what we expected of them, but what's got us over the hump this season has been our kids who don't get in the spotlight.''

Deshawn Walker is a good example. He's always been small in height but built solid with wide shoulders. He started the season playing fullback and linebacker.

Walker said all through middle school he begged his coach, Sebastian Hopkins, to put him on the offensive line. Usually, offensive linemen beg to play elsewhere.

Late this season in a Region 3-AAA game against Camden, Hopkins, who moved up to the varsity, was wondering out loud why his players weren't blocking. Walker asked to be put in. He's still there.

"He finally listened,'' Walker said. "I grew up thinking I was an offensive lineman. I have a lot of heart and I'm physical. I'll line up against a big guy -- every player I line up against is bigger -- and he thinks his life is going to be easy.

"They'll talk trash to me, but once I get low and take them off their feet, the talking stops and they know they're in for a fight.''

Jackson was a returning starter but stood and watched the first three games. He didn't like being moved from defensive end, saying he was moping around and griping about how hot it was during preseason practice in August -- in general, being lazy.

Mitchell didn't like what he saw and a personality conflict ensued. In the fourth game, Jackson and Mitchell had a heart-to-heart. Jackson apologized and was put in at noseguard. He's developed into one of the best Chester's ever had.

"I just wanted to play and after coach Mitchell put me in, the light bulb came on,'' Jackson said. "I knew I'd been messing up and had to do something about it so I could help the team.

"It's been a great year. None of the rest of us mind if C.C., Gene and Terrell get most of the credit. We know it's a team effort and they can have all they want as long as we are winning. We want to go all the way.''

Mike Walker has 97 tackles and said each game is a challenge. He faces bigger and stronger players nearly every game but makes up for it with his quickness and ability to find the ball.

Walker is built like a tailback, sleek with an aura of speed. He plays like one, saying that when tailbacks are looking for holes to run through, he's on the other side looking for the same holes so he can dart through and make a hit.

"Coach Mitchell usually assigns me the other team's top running back,'' he said. "I'm like a spy out there, following him on every play and waiting for him to make his move.

"We have a lot of players on the team like me, players who are willing to do anything the coaches ask so that we can win. It's been a great season, one I'm proud of. The entire community is behind us. Businesses all over town have signs out front showing their support.'"

Class AAAA DI semifinals

• Northwestern at Byrnes, 7:30 p.m.

Class AAAA DII semifinals

• Clover at Ridge View, 7:30 p.m.

Class AAA Upper State championship

• Union County at Chester, 8 p.m.

Class A DII state championship

• Blackville-Hilda vs. Great Falls at Orangeburg, noon