Northwestern’s football team will still wear the purple and gold this fall, but the similarities between the 2014 and 2013 teams will all but end right there.
The Trojans lost a number of key contributors to last season’s undefeated state championship run. Kyle Richardson’s team will have to put in the summer hustle required to compete in what looks like a parity-filled Region 3-4A this fall.
Northwestern wasn’t the only team cleaned out by graduation either. Nation Ford lost most of its offensive production and a host of defensive starters, while York is also replacing some key figures. Fort Mill and Clover, with bunches of returning players, and Rock Hill will look to ascend the region rankings. And of course, new addition Gaffney must be considered as well.
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Coach: Kyle Richardson, 4th year
Last year: 15-0 overall, 7-0 in region; beat Stratford to win 4A-Division II state championship
Starters returning: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Key departures: WR Quadarius Fair, QB Mason Rudolph, LB Josh Miller, LB Russell Hubbs, RB Tori Adams, OL Junior Williams, OL Raydonn McCloud, DB Corey Seargent, DB/KR Jaquavious Mackey, K Sully Foy
Key returning: slot receiver Dupree Hart is the most important returning player for Northwestern, along with running back Julian Shockley, defensive linemen Chris Bouyer and Jamah Mitchell, linebacker Gabe Gresham, and spur Desmond Leak, who missed the spring with injury. Logan Rudolph showed flashes as a freshman and should continue to increase his contributions this fall, alongside Hart, rising senior slot-man Weston King and promising rising junior Cory McCoy. Davion Blake is another that should make an impact at the always-busy receiver position. Chris Bowler and rising sophomore stud Jerry Howard will team with Shockley to give Northwestern a nice trio of runners in the backfield. Rising junior Demontre Buckson is one of the few returning players on the offensive line with starting experience.
New coaches: none
Spring recap: Northwestern’s spring work suffered from the success of its baseball, softball and track and field teams, which kept players and coaches away from the gridiron. “We’ve had to adjust our schedule a lot based off of winning, which is always a good thing,” said Richardson. “We always push our guys to play multiple sports, and when they go into those other sports and they get a chance to compete for state championships, it was a good spring for the Trojan family, and for us too.” That enabled Trojans further down the depth chart to get more reps, and also begin to acclimate to being at the front of the line, as opposed to the back. “They kind of know how things are and what’s expected from them,” said Richardson. “You can’t replace game experience with practice, but you’ve got to give them as many reps as possible, and that’s what these new guys are doing.”
2014 outlook: Northwestern expertly handled the building pressure throughout last season as they chased a state championship, but this year the Trojans will have a different kind of pressure. “Obviously we never go into football games wanting to lose games, but at the same time there is going to be some growing pains with a young team,” said Richardson. Dealing with the first loss(es) in a year and a half will be key to keeping the team on track. That said, plenty of talent remains, especially Hart, with the ball in his hands, and a next generation is already stepping up. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that are hungry to be the next great one,” said Richardson.
August: 22- Byrnes; 29- at Charlotte Catholic
September: 5- Irmo; 12- at Greenwood; 19- South Pointe; 26- at Fort Mill
October: 3- York; 10- Open; 17- Clover; 24- at Nation Ford; 31- Rock Hill
November: 7- at Gaffney
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 48-18; region opponents: 33-37; total: 81-55, 59.5 winning percentage
Coach: Bubba Pittman, 1st year
Last year: 4-8 overall, 3-4 in Region 3-4A; lost to Hillcrest in the first round of the Big 16 playoffs
Starters returning: every position is open
Key departures: ATH Jau’quan Feaster, RB Justin Stokes, DL Cam Bell, DB Tyquan Huntley, LB R.J. Neely, WR Jermaine White, OL Travis Strait, DL Ben Demarest, WR Jamil Simpson, OL Matt Christopher
Key returning: Rock Hill returns some playmakers on defense in rising junior linebacker Donavon Perryman, rising senior athlete Deshaun McFadden, and rising senior linebackers Emanuel Jones and D’Nylijah Williams. McFadden will also see time on offense, as will rising senior Brandon Croutch, who mostly played in the secondary last year, but will get time at running back this fall as well. Rising junior John McCullough had a good spring at receiver and Thailand Adams is another that will give Bearcat quarterbacks promising targets on the flanks. Rising junior Brandon Banks has a shot to start under center, but like Dylan Jones, missed most of spring practice, which allowed Cameron McKinney to get most of the QB repetitions.
New coaches: none at the moment, though Pittman has a few spots to fill
Spring recap: Rookie head coach Pittman deemed the spring practice session “great,” as the Bearcats were able to install offensive adjustments, change how they practice special teams, and continue to ramp up the pace of practice. Another positive was about 130 kids turning out for just the varsity and JV teams. “We got a lot of looks at some kids, young kids. Very, very productive,” said Pittman. Rock Hill held its spring scrimmage on May 22 and finished up practice earlier this week. Similar to Lancaster and its new head coach Bobby Collins, teaching the Rock Hill players how to practice at Pittman’s desired rate was one of the biggest achievements of the spring for Rock Hill.
2014 outlook: Rock Hill will be junior-heavy after a 2013 season when they started a number of 10th graders. “Those guys are getting a lot of playing time and growing up as they go,” said Pittman. Rock Hill’s offensive line should be better with three seniors in the middle - Josh English, Tanner Stafford and Jeff Eberspeaker - and good-sized tackles in John Foote and Civic Campbell, who transferred from Northwestern. But the Bearcats still have a contest at quarterback and lack the experience needed to make a huge jump. Patience will be key for Rock Hill supporters this season, as Pittman’s team adjusts completely to his style of offense, partially implemented last fall, and continues to rely on a number of young play-makers.
August: 22- at Blythewood; 29- South Pointe
September: 5- at Chester; 12- Dorman; 19- at Sumter; 26- York;
October: 3- at Gaffney; 10- Clover; 17- at Fort Mill; 24- Open; 31- at Northwestern
November: 5- Nation Ford
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 37-25; region opponents: 44-29; total: 81-54, 60 winning percentage
Coach: Bobby Carroll, 5th year
Last year: 10-3 overall, 5-2 in Region 3-4A; lost to Northwestern in second round of 4A-Division II playoffs
Starters returning: 6 offensive, 8 defensive
Key departures: RB Ryan Moore, WR Markell Castle, WR Josh McCoy, OL Shuler Littleton, DL Lawrence Adams, OL Quinton Killian, WR Tay McConnell, DB Ray Ray Ellis, QB/K Jerome Pettiway
Key returning: Division I recruits quarterback Deshaw Andrews and receiver Daurice Simpson are two of the biggest names back for York, but Simpson, who has several Division I offers already, will be making much of his impact on the defensive side of the ball, after sliding over to safety. Receiver Kyron Schrouder, who led the Cougars in receiving TD’s last fall, should pick up some of the slack offensively, and don’t be surprised to see Simpson line up at receiver some too, especially in key region games. Replacing Moore will be nigh impossible, but York will try with Thomas Wilkerson, Antonio Davidson and promising rising 10th grader Paul Moore. Defensively, Carroll and the Cougars return a number of starters, including defensive linemen Joe Gill and Ethan Whitesides, and need some from a bunch of young defensive pups, including rising 10th graders Wally Wilmore and Shandon Cobb, to step forward.
New coaches: none at the moment, though Carroll will be specifically coaching inside linebackers, a change for him.
Spring recap: Carroll said the spring went well, culminating in the May 22 spring scrimmage, but “like everybody, we’ve got an extreme amount of work to do. Got some big holes to fill at running back, losing Ryan Moore, a good part of our offense. I think about 50 percent of our offensive point production graduated, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.” Tackling was one area York focused on during spring ball, as defense was a weakness for the Cougars last fall, but should be less of an issue this coming season. “It’s about coaching, man,” said Carroll. “It’s easy to coach great players; you’ve got to take average players and make them above-average. We’re just trying to get better at every single position.”
2014 outlook: As with any high school football team, York’s progression will depend on how well it plugs the holes left from last year’s squad. Even with a bunch of guys back on defense, Carroll isn’t content with his stoppers just yet. “This team has changed so much,” he said. “Returning starters don’t necessarily mean you’re going to be better on defense.” Fortunately for the Cougars, they return the best quarterback in the area, a pair of dangerous offensive targets in Schrouder and Simpson, who will be playing a lot of snaps this fall, and a solid offensive line anchored by giant rising senior offensive tackle Josh Moss, and rising junior Ryan Enniss, who is popping up on colleges’ recruiting radars.
August: 22- Sumter; 29- at Irmo
September: 5- South Pointe; 12- at Chester; 19- Boiling Springs; 26- at Rock Hill
October: 3- at Northwestern; 10- Gaffney; 17- Nation Ford; 24- at Fort Mill; 31- Open
November: 7- Clover
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 37-27; region opponents: 38-34; total: 75-61, 55.1 winning percentage
Coach: Chad Smith, 2nd year
Last year: 1-10 overall, 1-6 in Region 3-4A
Starters returning: 9 offensive, 6 defensive
Key departures: RB Ladarius Adams, QB Scott Jackson, C Wade Bradley, RB/DB Chase Galant, RB/KR Keyshawn Pressley, FB/LB Jakob Morrison, TE/DL Ben Forbes, DE Owen Jefferies
Key returning: Noah Lindsay will take over for Jackson at quarterback. It will be tough for Clover to replace Adams, but the trio of rising sophomore Willy Clark, rising junior Cody Payne and bruising rising senior fullback Zach Conrad will try and get it done. The Blue Eagles return four of their five offensive linemen up front - Barrett Courtwright, Harrison Gibson, Charles McClure and Jacob Church. That should ramp up Clover’s double-wing offensive efficacy. “Their presence is felt,” said Smith. “They like hitting people and that’s what you want offensive linemen to do.”
New coaches: none at the moment
Spring recap: Smith termed his team’s spring football practice period “fantastic.” Numbers are up in turnout and strength, a sign of a recovering program. Clover played a smash-mouth football system last fall, but Smith feels his program is now actually becoming smash-mouth in its personality. “I think we’re progressing that way,” he said. “By the end of the year last year, I felt like we could compete with anyone. This year, with another year in the weight-room and all those kids coming back, we’re very excited.”
2014 outlook: Also aiding the Blue Eagles’ turnaround is a much more reasonable schedule; Spring Valley and South Florence, who both went undefeated last regular season, and Boiling Springs are off the slate, while Westside, Westwood and White Knoll were added. “This year, we’ve still got good football teams,” said Smith. “Westside’s always had athletes. We still play Forestview; they had the best year in school history last year. Then we jump around, we play White Knoll and we’ve got Blythewood. They’re quality opponents, but they’re not in the top-two teams in the state.” Better depth, strength and experience should see the Blue Eagles improve on their one-win 2013 campaign.
August: 22- at Westside; 29- at Forestview (N.C.)
September: 5- Westwood; 12- White Knoll; 19- at Blythewood; 26- Open
October: 3- Fort Mill; 10- at Rock Hill; 17- at Northwestern; 24- Gaffney; 31- Nation Ford
November: 7- at York
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 31-30; region opponents: 47-27; total: 78-57, 57.7 winning percentage
Coach: Ed Susi, 8th year
Last year: 4-7 overall, 2-5 in Region 3-4A
Starters returning: 9 offensive, 8 defensive
Key departures: RB Deryan Sanders, LB Jesse Horine, OL Sam Smith, DE Drew Moses, WR Zach Fowler, LB Joseph Coley
Key returning: Athletic utility man Chandler Kryst and running back/linebacker Malik Long both return for senior seasons at Fort Mill, which should help quarterback Rogan Wells progress from his sophomore season last fall. Brandon Plyler will be a senior this fall, and likely Wells’ top receiving target. Mason Jordan gives the Yellow Jackets some gerth at tight end and on the defensive line, and four offensive line starters return to pave the way for Fort Mill’s spread running attack. Dan Marr and Josh Gast return at linebacker.
New coaches: none at the moment, though Susi has vacancies to fill
Spring recap: Fort Mill finished spring practice on Thursday. Nobody was injured, a priority for the Yellow Jacket coaching staff. With so many starters back from last season, the spring, “For the main part, it was more of a mental thing for us,” said Susi, “installing some new stuff.” That was a luxury most schools in the area didn’t enjoy. “We had a lot of kids coming back, so we wanted to add some more stuff.”
2014 outlook: 2014 should be much better for Fort Mill. The Yellow Jackets return a high percentage of starters, many of whom were tossed in the fire last fall as rookie first-stringers. Susi is concerned about his team’s depth, but feels 100 percent better heading into this summer as opposed to last summer when he was replacing an entire offensive line and hunting a starting QB. “We’re in a lot better position than we were a year ago, but you still can’t get anybody hurt, depth is always a problem. But we’ve got the core kids we’ve got and we’re happy with them, they’re working hard.” Wells, Kryst and Long will be the key trio offensively, with the latter two picking up considerable college interest.
August: 23- at White Knoll; 29- Lugoff-Elgin
September: 5- at Greenville; 12- River Bluff; 19- at West Florence; 26- Northwestern
October: 3- at Clover; 10- at Nation Ford; 17- Rock Hill; 24- York; 31- at Gaffney
November: 7- Open
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 22-27; region opponents: 44-30; total: 66-57, 53.6 winning percentage
Coach: Michael Allen, 4th year
Last year: 6-5 overall, 4-3 in Region 3-4A; lost to Stratford in first round of 4A-Division II playoffs
Starters returning: 5 offensive, 2 defensive
Key departures: QB Dalton Helms, WR Brandon Cureton, WR/TE Riley Hilton, RB Marques Coleman, DB Michael Allen, DB Blake Hill, LB Andrew Bruce, LB Chris Harvell, DB Jordan Causey, OL Josh Jacobs, OL Sterling Watters, DL Michael Isley
Key returning: The cupboard got cleaned out pretty good for Nation Ford. The Falcons should return some weapons offensively in rising junior receiver Josh Shade, multi-purpose athlete and rising junior Hank Tuipulotu, and rising senior receiver Colt Taylor. Tuipulotu will effectively take Hilton’s place as the team’s tight end/slot receiver. Rising junior Cole Martin will replace Helms at quarterback; Martin played some in relief of Helms last fall when the senior went down with injury and should have no trouble stepping into the main spot. Running backs Keshawn McClure and Tyree McIntyre will get plenty of reps in the backfield. Keion Jones and Ervin Lassiter are the only returning starters, both in the Falcon secondary.
New coaches: not at the moment
Spring recap: Allen said Martin was sharp as the team’s QB the past two weeks. He’ll be working behind a young but large offensive line, with several kids rising 10th and 11th graders in 6-foot-5, 300-pound range. “Offensively, we’re a little ahead of the game,” said the team’s coach. With little established depth, Nation Ford coaches were happy to get through the spring session with no injuries. With so many new faces on varsity, the focus for Allen was “fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.”
2014 outlook: Twenty-seven of the Falcons’ 46 players from last fall graduated, meaning an almost entirely new crop of players will be charged with prolonging the program’s upward momentum. It won’t be easy to replace a senior class that oversaw 19 wins the last three years, the school’s first playoff appearance, and its first win over rival Fort Mill, achieved last fall. Doing so in Region 3-4A makes that job even tougher, especially with the addition of Gaffney. Still, the slew of young kids earning promotions to varsity this fall come from a junior varsity squad that went 9-1 last season. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason,” said Allen. “They’ve had to step up; it’s a big change from JV to varsity.”
August: 22- Forestview (N.C.); 29- at Boiling Springs
September: 5- at Lugoff-Elgin; 12- Greenville; 19- Ridge View; 26- Gaffney
October: 3- Open; 10- Fort Mill; 17- at York; 24- Northwestern; 31- at Clover
November: 7- at Rock Hill
Non-region opponents’ cumulative 2013 record: 29-32; region opponents: 42-32; total: 71-64, 52.6 winning percentage