High school football spring practices wrapped up this week and as always, the one constant at schools with 300 students or 2,000 was excitement.
The Herald’s 12-school coverage area ranges from tiny Great Falls, where around 30 players practiced for eight days in only helmets and shorts and there was no spring scrimmage, to Northwestern or York, programs with scores of ninth grade, JV and varsity players, able to hold a legitimate intersquad scrimmage.
Spring football practice is a 26-day period during May. Teams are allowed a maximum of 10 days in full pads and middle schoolers are not allowed to participate and most schools’ spring practices culminated in a scrimmage. Here’s a recap of spring football at York, Clover, Nation Ford, Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Northwestern.
Coach: Bubba Pittman, second year
Last year: 4-7 overall, 1-5 in Region 3-4A
Starters returning: 6 offense, 8 defense
Key departures: ATH Deshaun McFadden (N.C. A&T), RB Brandon Croutch, LB D’Nylijah Williams, LB Emanuel Jones (Chabot College), DB Donnell Williams, LB Treyvon Edwards, DE Wayne Simmons (Newberry).
Key returning: Sr. OL Civic Campbell, Sr. WR Thailand Adams, Sr. DE Alan Salgado, Sr. DE Stephen Chesney, Sr. QB Brandon Banks, Sr. LB Donavon Perryman, Sr. WR John McCullough, Jr. WR Jonathan Muhammad, Jr. RB/DB Nick Truesdale, Soph. WR Eric Stroud, Sr. RB/slot Tim Sherer.
New coaches: none
Spring report: The Bearcats have to replace four senior offensive linemen that graduate, making the spring practice period crucial for finding replacements. Rock Hill also has to replace talented running back Brandon Croutch, a North-South all-star, which will probably be done by committee. Senior Tim Sherer and junior Nick Truesdale are two that will get a shot to tote the ball for the Bearcats.
“We’ve got some kids competing for positions. We graduated a lot of great seniors as you know and we’re filling some holes, so the kids are out there battling and competing every day,” said Pittman.
Rock Hill’s practices have been a little quieter this season, the music that blared over loudspeakers last year turned down several notches. But the speed of the practices is the same up-tempo groove that Pittman demands.
“The coaches I think want to turn it up louder and louder,” said Pittman. “But the speed of our practices is something they’re used to and we tried to implement some of that into our offseason weight program. We try to do everything we do fast, so it’s kind of becoming second nature to them.”
2015 outlook: Rock Hill had one of the best defensive units in the area last season and returns eight starters and, perhaps more crucially, wily defensive coordinator Mike Biddix. Even an offensive mind like Pittman acknowledged successful football starts on the defensive side of the pigskin. That doesn’t mean there won’t still be some new faces on the defense, though.
“Every job is open every year,” said Pittman. “We are returning a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball and those guys are flying around.”
For Rock Hill to take a step forward, it has to be more consistent offensively. Having quarterback Brandon Banks in for a full spring practice helped; he missed last year’s because of the baseball team’s success, then was injured early in fall practice, setting him and the Bearcats back considerably.
“Our defense played very well last year and there were times when we didn’t execute offensively. Turned the ball over some, laid it on the ground some, just couldn’t quite get it in the end zone as many times as we wanted to,” said Pittman. “It was just one of those things where we had to learn and grow. This year we’ve had a little more continuity and I think it will be a more productive offensive year.”
August: 21- Blythewood; 28- at South Pointe
September: 4- Chester; 11- at Dorman; 18- Sumter; 25- at York
October: 2- Gaffney; 9- at Clover; 16- Fort Mill; 23- open; 30- Northwestern
November: 6- at Nation Ford
Coach: Kyle Richardson, fifth year
Last year: 9-4 overall, 5-1 in Region 3-4A; Northwestern lost to Byrnes 37-36 (OT) in the second round of the Big 16 playoffs
Key departures: QB/ATH Dupree Hart, DE Chris Bouyer (East Tennessee State), DB Desmond Leak (Union College), LB Gabe Gresham, K Alan Taylerson, OL Shahee Fernanders, OL Jonathan Trotter.
Key returning: Jr. RB Jerry Howard, Jr. S/QB Ali Shockley, Sr. WR Julian Shockley, Jr. TE/DE Logan Rudolph, Sr. LB Trae’von Hinton, Sr. OL Demontre Buckson, Soph. RB Daquez Harris, Soph. OL/DL Josiah Ivey, Sr. LB Kobe Tate, Jr. QB Will Hagood, Sr. OL/DL Jamah Mitchell, Sr. WR Cory McCoy.
New coaches: none
Spring report: Kyle Richardson said after Wednesday’s practice that “our offense is the same every year. It’s just a mixture of how we want to attack those four or five plays that we have.” So while Northwestern’s personnel may be different this coming season - without the high school superstars of the last few years - the Trojan offensive playbook doesn’t change.
“We may personnel it up different. So in the spring that’s where we come out of it into the summer and go, ‘where do we want to put our focus early with our offense?’” said Richardson. “It really doesn’t change our scheme; it’s just gonna be based off our personnel.”
Richardson liked his team’s final week of spring ball, with all of the assistant coaches - such as baseball/offensive line coach Mitch Walters and softball/assistant coach Bryan Smith - back on the football field after successful spring seasons in their other sports. At times earlier in spring practice, four Trojan coaches were overseeing 130-plus football players.
“The last week and a half it’s been normal Northwestern football practice where before it was kind of piecing together stuff,” said Richardson.
2015 outlook: With powerfully-built backs Jerry Howard and Daquez Harris, Northwestern looks positioned to run the ball much more than in recent years, but Richardson’s offense will, as always, take whatever the defense gives.
“We’ve gone into seasons where we had a really good running back and we ended up throwing it more than we ran it, and there’s been some years where we’ve had an average running back and we ended up running it more,” said Richardson. “On paper, yeah, it looks good, it looks pretty, but I can’t tell you how it’s gonna look in August.”
Having the threat of Howard and Harris should help open up a Trojan passing attack that is replacing some key parts, notably QB Hart. Juniors Will Hagood and Ali Shockley - who started at safety last season - will get a chance to win the starting quarterback job.
One thing that is certain about this Northwestern team: it’s very big. Division I prospects Trae’von Hinton and Logan Rudolph will give the Trojans two studs on the edges of the defensive line, while Demontre Buckson, Josiah Ivey and Jamah Mitchell are three space-eaters in the trenches that will play on both sides of the ball. Northwestern has the same expectations it always does - winning a state title - even if this year’s team might achieve success in different ways.
August: 21-at Byrnes; 28- Woodside (Va.)
September: 4- at Irmo; 11- Greenwood; 18- at South Pointe; 25- Fort Mill
October: 2- at York; 9- open; 16- at Clover; 23- Nation Ford; 30- at Rock Hill (District Three Stadium)
November: 6- Gaffney
Coach: Bobby Carroll, fifth year
Last year: 13-3 overall, 4-2 in Region 3-4A; York lost to Spartanburg 49-28 in the 4A Division II state championship game
Starters returning: 6 offense, 6 defense
Key departures: QB Deshaw Andrews (Coffeyville C.C.), ATH Daurice Simpson (Coffeyville C.C.), K Buddy Anderson (Wofford), WR Kyron Schrouder, DE Luc Greene, DE Ethan Whitesides, DB Mitchell Trotter, LB Armond Pendergrass (Greensboro College).
Key returning: Jr. ATH Wally Wilmore, Sr. OLB/DE Deivonne Chalk, Sr. LB Nick Sturgill, Sr. LB Jamar Griffin, Jr. LB Tyquan McCray, Sr. OL Ryan Enniss, Sr. Brandon Garvin RB/LB, Jr. OL Danny Warren, Sr. OL Caleb Clayton, Jr. WR Shandon Cobb.
New coaches: Former Presbyterian College safety Chad Burgess; Bobby Carroll’s son Spencer is helping out on the offensive side.
Spring report: After reaching the 4A Division II state title game last December, the York Cougars couldn’t get on the field fast enough for spring practice.
“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to get to do something other than lift weights,” said Bobby Carroll last week. “You’ve got some new faces out there, and you’re trying to fill positions you lost last year and trying to get that nailed down before summer. You don’t really spend a lot of time tackling; it’s really installing offense and defense.”
The Cougars have nearly 150 players combined suited up for varsity, JV and ninth grade teams, and that sizable group achieved one thing the past few weeks that every football coach desires out of spring practice.
“Didn’t get anybody hurt and that’s the big thing,” Carroll said.
2015 outlook: Carroll feels good about the kids stepping into bigger roles this coming season as York tries to prove that last season’s success wasn’t a one-off.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back, man,” he said. “We’ve got a majority of the defense back. We’re gonna rely on the system that we’ve put in place here to carry us on both sides of the ball.”
Carroll thinks York’s taste of the big-time last season will only ramp up his players’ commitment to hard work.
“I think they’re starting to get the attitude that they can do this thing,” said Carroll.
The Cougars have plenty of college-level talent back, notably Wilmore - who could end up playing QB, wide receiver and defensive back before the season is over - and Chalk, and those guys sprinkled in with the typical blue collar York high school football player should make for a good 2015 season in which they challenge for the Region 3-4A title again.
“That’s the thing about these York kids; they’re gonna play hard, they’re gonna work hard and they’re gonna be here on time,” Carroll said. “That’s a great thing about coaching these kids. They overachieve sometimes.”
August: 21- at Sumter; 28- Irmo;
September: 4- at South Pointe; 11- Chester; 18- at Boiling Springs; 25- Rock Hill
October: 2- Northwestern; 9- at Gaffney; 16- at Nation Ford; 23- Fort Mill; 30- open
November: 6- at Clover
Coach: Chad Smith, third year
Last year: 3-8 overall, 2-4 in Region 3-4A
Starters returning: 5 offense, 7 defense
Key departures: TE Landon Harkey, OL/TE Barrett Courtwright, OL Harrison Gibson, ATH R.J. Moore, WB Coby Hamblen, LB Taylor Foster, FB Zach Conrad, OL Charles McClure.
Key returning: Sr. QB Noah Lindsay, Sr. WB Cody Payne, Sr. WB Tenchi Her, Jr. WB Willy Clark, Jr. FB Tanner Tolson, Sr. OL Gavin Jenkins, Jr. OL Jackson McDowell, Jr. OL Jack McGivern, Sr. DE/TE Elijah Plummer.
New coaches: Sheldon Brown, former Lewisville, South Carolina Gamecocks and NFL standout, will be coaching cornerbacks; Stephen Peeler has been hired to coach wide receivers.
Spring report: This spring has seen Clover’s offense continue to evolve into more of what coach Chad Smith used when he coached in eastern North Carolina. That’s a wing-t offense, more spread in its appearance and utilizing the perimeter more often than the double-wing the Blue Eagles have been using for years.
“It opens us up a good bit,” said Smith. “I don’t know if the consistency of getting three yards a pop is there quite as much, but it definitely opens up a lot more big play potential. I’m excited about it and our kids have really seemed to enjoy their spring ball.”
Smith said he wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t have the players he needed for the shift.
“I love being multiple, I love game-planning, I love the whole chess match that happens within a football game,” said Smith. “Those first two years we were working so hard on just blocking, just tackling, getting our base offense and our base defense in, that now we can have some fun and spread our wings a bit.”
2015 outlook: Asked to compare the new-look offense to any South Carolina teams, Smith struggled to find parallels. That’s a good thing for the Blue Eagles, who are one of the toughest teams in the area for which to prepare. Getting Clover’s tough-nosed blockers out on the edge against defensive backs more used to pass coverage could be a real advantage, especially as Smith said the 2015 team could be one of the biggest that Clover has had in a number of years.
“Within the weight room we’ve had a ton of fantastic gains, and our kids are starting to see it,” he said. “You can really tell the difference in our kids on the field this spring.”
Clover is slowly gathering steam. The Blue Eagles won a single game combined in 2012 and ‘13, but won three last season. Smith feels confident that progression can continue this coming fall.
“It’s definitely been much easier this spring because kids know what’s expected of them. Now it’s just about improving every day,” he said. “We’re very excited about what this year might hold.”
August: 21- Westside; 28- Forestview (N.C.)
September: 4- at Westwood; 11- at White Knoll; 18- Blythewood; 25- open
October: 2- at Fort Mill; 9- Rock Hill; 16- Northwestern; 23- at Gaffney; 30- at Nation Ford
November: 6- York
Coach: Ed Susi, ninth year
Last year: 9-3 overall, 5-1 in Region 3-4A; Fort Mill lost to Dorman 48-17 in the first round of the Big 16 playoffs
Starters returning: 5 offense, 3 defense
Key departures: RB Malik Long, RB Chandler Kryst, WR/DB Brandon Plyler, DL Aaron Patterson, OL Kyle Rapoza, TE/DE Mason Jordan, OL Jimmy Reeves, ATH Taylor Hemphill, LB Josh Gast, LB Dan Marr, LB Logan Yager.
Key returning: Sr. QB Rogan Wells, Jr. RB Ronnie Hughes, Sr. DE/RB Brett Ferguson, Jr. LB/RB Noah Wetzel, Sr. OL Davis Pinckney, Sr. OL Matt Neill, Sr. OL Austin Randolph, Jr. WR Hunter Helms.
New coaches: none on the varsity level
Spring report: Coming off the school’s most successful season in 16 years, Yellow Jackets coach Ed Susi said there was definitely a good vibration during the team’s spring practices.
“Our enthusiasm has been great,” Susi said earlier this week. “It’s a different atmosphere now. They’re expecting more things out of each other, and they want to hopefully continue what they did last year.”
Despite significant graduation losses, Susi didn’t rewrite the team’s playbook during the offseason. Instead, Ronnie Hughes will slot into Chandler Kryst’s scat-back spot, while 6-foot, 230-pound Brett Ferguson and Noah Wetzel will split time as the power runner in Malik Long’s stead. Susi was recently at Ohio State for a couple of days picking up some new wrinkles, but don’t expect any dramatic changes from the Yellow Jackets on offense.
In light of the recent eight-quarter rule abolition, Susi used the Yellow Jackets’ spring scrimmage to specifically test out players that are straddling the border of JV and varsity football.
2015 outlook: The Yellow Jackets do return a trio of three-year starters on the offensive line, and quarterback Rogan Wells, one of the best at his position in The Herald’s coverage area. Wells ran for over 500 yards and 14 touchdowns and threw for nearly 2,000 more in 2014, and he’ll be critical to the team’s success this coming season. Accordingly, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Wells - who is receiving recruiting interest from a slew of colleges - has been given more control over the offense by Susi.
“He knows very well the expectations, and he’s got high expectations for himself,” said Fort Mill’s coach. “It’s his offense; now he’s just got to go take charge of it. He’s got some different guys he’s going to give the ball to, is all.”
Susi said a number of the players stepping into starting roles have experience, just not much. Whether Fort Mill can replicate its 2014 campaign will in large part be up to those new starters and how well they sync into the lineup.
“I’m hoping we can continue where we left off,” said Susi, “but that’s tough to do.”
August: 21- White Knoll (at River Bluff High School); 28- at Lugoff-Elgin
September: 4- Greenville; 11- at River Bluff; 18- West Florence; 25- at Northwestern
October: 2- Clover; 9- Nation Ford; 16- at Rock Hill; 23- at York; 30- Gaffney
November: 6- open
Coach: Michael Allen, fifth year
Last year: 2-9 overall, 0-6 in Region 3-4A
Starters returning: 8 offense, 5 or 6 defense
Key departures: ATH Ervin Lassiter, RB Keshawn McClure, LB Grant Brewington, DE Jordan Crawford, Sr. DB Keion Jones, Sr. WR/DB Colt Taylor, OL James Twedt.
Key returning: Sr. TE/WR Hank Tuipulotu, Sr. TE/WR Jordan Helms, Sr. QB Cole Martin, Jr. LB/S Alex Stennett, Jr. RB Tyree Chaplin, Sr. OT Chandler Smith, Sr. WR Josh Shade, Jr. ATH Halen Burgess.
New coaches: New assistant coach Taylor Irvin played offensive line at South Carolina in the late 1990s.
Spring report: The Falcon defense surrendered 511 yards and 48 points per contest in 2014, and coach Michael Allen doesn’t plan on repeating anything like that this fall.
“It’s been a major focus for us, to revamp our thought process and personnel is a big issue for us,” Allen said on May 19. “On the other side of the ball offensively, we’re trying to find ways that our offense can help our defense as well. Maybe how we approach a certain game, and at the end of the day, trying to run the football a little more than we did.”
The Falcons put up video game numbers through the air, but only averaged about 60 yards rushing per game. It was an imbalance that led to a number of three-and-outs, which sent the Falcon defense back on the field.
“These guys realize they’ve got a lot of work to do. They know what 2-9 is,” said Allen, “and 2-9 overrides 4,000 yards in passing every day. Those numbers really don’t mean that much to us and our guys understand that.”
2015 outlook: Nation Ford’s outlook on the upcoming season is optimistic and with good reason. Allen returns a strong senior class whose leadership should push the Falcons toward a winning record.
“Of course every year you start out you want to play for a ring. But we’re gonna take it one step at a time and just try to get better and compete from Week Zero,” said Allen.
Coupling graduation losses suffered by Nation Ford’s Region 3-4A opponents with what the Falcons have coming back on offense, it’s no stretch to think that Allen’s team should be back in playoff contention this coming season.
“We’re very hopeful, we’re excited,” he said. “We’ve gone all offseason having to swallow 2-9, and that’s a hard pill to swallow and that’s not who we are. So we’re very excited, I guess you would say optimistic.”
August: 21- South Pointe; 28- Boiling Springs
September: 4- Lugoff-Elgin; 11- at Greenville; 18- at Ridge View; 25- at Gaffney
October- 2- open; 9- at Fort Mill; 16- York; 23- at Northwestern; 30- Clover
November: 6- Rock Hill
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust