‘Look at us now!’ Chester Cyclones celebrate football state title win
Two ball boys are ever-present at Chester High School football games, head coach Victor Floyd’s son Trooper and defensive coordinator Tim Boyd’s son Timmy. They’re in sixth grade and Trooper is the QB and Timmy the wideout. They toss a football to each other at any dead moment before or during a game, Timmy tight-roping the sideline to snag Trooper’s throws. Could Floyd coach his son at Chester in three years?
“That’s the plan,” he said.
Chester lost in the 2007 3A football state final, then lost its coach, Floyd, during the offseason to a job in Georgia.
Floyd, who returned to Chester in 2015, said last week that he felt he left three state titles on the table in 2007, such was the strength in the Cyclones’ program when he departed. They did reach the final -- and lose again -- the following season under coach Maurice Flowers, but that was the last time until Friday night when Chester held off Dillon 34-28 to win the school’s first state title since the 1960s.
Floyd has that same feeling again in 2018, that his program is set up for sustained success. Only this time he doesn’t plan on leaving.
“People approached me, but that’s far from my mind right now, promise you,” he said Saturday morning, his gravelly voice beginning to return to full strength after a night of yelling in an SEC stadium. “I don’t know about all that.”
Just like 2007, the Cyclones’ cupboard is far from bare.
Chester returns its front seven on defense next season. That group includes defensive end Teddy Murphy, who sacked Dillon’s QB three times Friday night, the last of those a game-winner with only seconds remaining.
It also includes linebacker Javonti Jackson, who intercepted two Dillon passes, and Octaveion Minter, a hulking sophomore linebacker who led the team in tackles and will be a national recruit. And don’t forget defensive tackle Quay Evans, wreaking havoc in the middle of the Cyclones’ defensive line. That group could dominate in 2019 as juniors and seniors.
The Cyclones’ QB, Zan Dunham, should be back for the next three years. The freshman kept his cool during the title game against Dillon, most importantly not turning the ball over in contest a with six giveaways. Dunham is a force, running the football like Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would if he had never learned to slide and avoid contact.
Sure, Chester graduates star running back Pha’Leak Brown and one of his wingmen, speedster Emmanuel Wright. But Dunham is back as a primary ball-carrier, as well as Stan Mills, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and is ready to be a lead back. Floyd thinks jitterbug Ja’Rel Hill can easily move from wide receiver into the backfield to give the Cyclones another star trio of backs in 2019.
Secondary standouts Dorrien Bagley and Zion Mills and standout offensive linemen Wyatt Tunall, Keith Boyd and Montez Hall will be tough to replace. But Chester only loses a dozen seniors out of 60 total players in its varsity and JV teams.
Most importantly, Floyd, who coached his 150th career win Friday night, should be back on the sidelines again.
“We’ve got a good group coming back and we’ve got some young ones that’ll develop in the offseason,” he said. “And the biggest thing is the kids are excited about it, and as long as they’re excited about it you’re gonna have a chance.”
Chester entered Friday night’s title game 14-0, but also widely regarded as underdogs. Dillon was undefeated (12-0) too and playing in its seventh straight state title game, having won five of the previous six.
But pedigree didn’t play a single down Friday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
And any mental advantage the Wildcats had over their opponents evaporated in the game’s first 14 seconds after Brown’s 49-yard TD run on the first offensive play. The Cyclones’ 21-6 halftime lead gave them enough cushion to hold off Dillon when the Wildcats surged in the fourth quarter. Floyd impressed upon his team the importance of starting fast, and that proved true, especially when the Cyclones faded late.
Dillon had all the title game experience, had the better passing attack, but Chester had Floyd’s supreme ability to move his players’ hearts and minds, leaving no brick wall strong enough to resist the Cyclones if he told them to run it over.
They also had Floyd’s total inability to accept anything but the best from his players. He was asked Saturday what he was thinking about the morning after the state title win.
“I’m sitting here thinking about how we tried to throw that thing away in the fourth,” Floyd said, chuckling. “I think the guys really saw the finish line when we were up 34-12. You know, sometimes it’s a little hard to deal with.”
Talking to Floyd, it seems like he’ll remain at Chester in the coming years, but the spring of 2008 is a good reminder that there are no certainties in life and that Cyclone fans should truly soak up this state championship feeling and savor the time that Floyd is their head man. The Brunswick High School job came out of the blue in April 2008 and Floyd told The Herald back then that he felt like he’d be cheating his family if he didn’t take the job. Chester couldn’t compete with Brunswick’s finances, and there may come another time when another school district, or university, can out-pay the district.
Plus, Floyd said part of the allure of returning to Chester was the unfinished business of winning a state title. That business is finished.
Floyd said that going to Brunswick made him a better coach by competing against future SEC players, nationally-ranked programs and Hall of Fame coaches. There was also the politics, the outside influences that he feels ultimately ousted him from that position. He’s largely clear of that in Chester, an important thing for any employee, to feel respected and allowed room to do a job the way they think is best.
He also has the adoration of Chester, a one-school town that was clearly brought together by the Cyclones’ championship run. People joked that there were so many Cyclone fans at Williams-Brice Stadium that Friday night was the time to rob a bank back in Chester. But more likely, the bank robbers were among the sea of navy and red too. The players noticed the huge support, and Floyd did too.
So, until the day that another school district or college makes Floyd another offer he can’t refuse, expect him, and Trooper, to be on Chester’s sidelines, grinding to make sure Cyclone fans don’t have to wait 50 more years for another state championship.