The Chester Cyclones bring home first football state championship in decades
Atop a Chester 2019 varsity football schedule emailed to The Herald last week, it says “The Encore.”
The Cyclones started their preparations for the 2019 season this month. They do so as defending state champs, the first time a Chester team could say that in over 50 years, following a 15-0 season that culminated in the 3A state title last December. But “The Encore” is as much reference to the 2018 state title as you’ll hear from the Cyclones this year.
“We kind of stomped it in the ground in March,” said Chester coach Victor Floyd. “We’ve got to write our own story this year. Can’t be based on anything in the past.”
The Cyclones graduate important contributors, but only seven starters. The offensive line took a bit of hit, especially with the loss of standout blockers Wyatt Tunall (North Carolina) and Keith Boyd (Presbyterian). And versatile athletes like Dorrien Bagley and Pha’Leak Brown (headed to Illinois State) that contributed for three and four years to the Cyclones’ varsity program won’t be easy to replace.
But there is reason to assume an encore can happen, because every position group, even the offensive line, is pretty well stocked for 2019, particularly the defensive front seven. And colleges are recognizing. Floyd said the Cyclones had college coaches at 10 of their 12 spring practices.
“We had as much energy as you could possibly expect,” said Floyd. “I thought we had a real solid spring.”
Dominant defensive tackle Quay Evans continues to reel in offers, adding Liberty, Central Florida and Georgia State to the Oregon and West Virginia offers he scored earlier this year. Evans’ partner in defensive line crime, Teddy Murphy, was also offered by Georgia State.
Rising sophomore QB Zan Dunham recently picked up a scholarship offer from Tennessee, hand-delivered by former Carolina Panthers QB Chris Weinke, who now coaches the Volunteers’ quarterbacks. Dunham didn’t do much with his arm last fall as a ninth grader, but expect to see much more of his dynamic throwing ability this coming season.
“He can make every throw,” said Floyd. “It was just me playing it close to the vest, not putting it in his hands last year. I wasn’t gonna put that on him.”
Rising senior running back Stan Mills, who should carry a bigger load for the Cyclones this season, and rising junior linebacker Octaveon Minter were both offered by Liberty (as well as Dunham). Dunham and Mills both topped 1,000 yards rushing last fall and are representative of the dispersal of Cyclone talent throughout the different grades. That should help ensure that Chester hangs around a while as a state contender, and isn’t just a one-year anomaly.
Elsewhere in The Herald’s coverage area
Clover and Indian Land are in somewhat similar situations to Chester, in that they retained their head coach and they’ll only graduate single-digit senior contributors.
Indian Land defensive back A.J. Jefferson is getting Division I recruiting attention from all manner of schools, including Princeton, which recently offered him. The Warriors also have a promising -- and hulking -- upcoming offensive lineman in Prestin Hawkins.
Clover returns strong linebacker duo Shon Brown and Hayden Johnson, starting running back David Hall and quarterback Gabe Carroll, receivers Zion Robbins and Jaylin Lane, and also added a couple of transfers, including defensive linemen Jaylon Ballard (offer from Gardner-Webb) and J.Q. Guinn (offers from Central Florida, Georgia Southern, Tennessee and East Carolina), who came over from York.
Both the Blue Eagles and Warriors will enter this fall with bigger expectations than they’ve had in quite a few years. Elsewhere in Chester, Lancaster and York counties, the high school football landscape isn’t nearly as settled.
Rock Hill returns its head coach, Bubba Pittman, who led the Bearcats to their best season in a decade last fall. But they graduate their starting QB and both 1,000-yard rushers, including standout Narii Gaither, and talented receiver Antonio Barber transferred to Cornelius, N.C.’s Hough High School.
Power 5-level recruit Anthony Jackson is back in the Bearcats’ secondary, and still raking in scholarship offers (Colorado State, East Carolina, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgia State, Akron and Western Kentucky to name a few). Reigning Hawg of the Year, center Carson Murray, is also back, as Rock Hill tries to build on its 8-3 season last fall.
South Pointe held its first spring football scrimmage under new coach DeVonte Holloman on May 23. Holloman was hired to replace Strait Herron, who left for the athletic director/football coach position at Rock Hill’s new charter school, Legion Collegiate Academy.
Holloman, who played his senior year of high school football at South Pointe in 2007, was hired from Beaufort High School in February.
“Having fun, man,” he said Thursday evening. “Glad to be home and looking forward to a great summer phase.”
Stallions players have quickly taken to the 28-year old former Dallas Cowboys linebacker.
“He likes to joke around, he makes practice fun,” said Stallions rising senior QB Tahleek Steele. “He makes you go 100 percent and he disciplines you if you don’t do the right thing, but he still has fun with you.”
“I enjoy having him around,” said rising senior defensive lineman Rontarius Aldridge. “I’m glad he’s our new head coach.”
Legion and Catawba Ridge are the new schools on the local football scene. Neither will join a South Carolina High School League region until at least 2020, when SCHSL realigns its member schools. Legion doesn’t yet have a home field and will play all of its 2019 games on the road.
Six of the area’s 14 schools -- South Pointe, York, Northwestern, Great Falls, Lancaster, Catawba Ridge and Legion -- will have new head coaches this coming season.
York turned to native Dean Boyd, Great Falls snapped up former Westwood defensive coordinator Tom Butler as its head coach, while Lancaster turned to assistant coach Marcus Surratt as its interim head coach, after Bobby Collins left for Marlboro County.
Northwestern still doesn’t have a head coach after James Martin resigned in late April; the school interviewed candidates last week, according to athletic director Lauren West. Trojan QB Dustin Noller led the team’s offense through spring ball, while 6-foot-5 receiver Ger-Cari Caldwell tweeted recently that he just picked up his first scholarship offer, from Illinois.
Catawba Ridge: August- 23 Carolina Pride; 30 Stuart Cramer (N.C.). September- 6 Charlotte Latin (N.C.); 13 at Weddington (N.C.); 20 at Blacksburg; 27 Bye. October- 4 at Charlotte Country Day (N.C.); 11 TBD; 18 Forestview (N.C.); 25 at Clover. November- 1 Ardrey Kell (N.C.).
Chester: August- 23 Aiken; 30 Fort Mill. September- 6 at Rock Hill; 13 Columbia (Ga.); 20 at Lancaster; 27 Carolina Pride. October- 4 at Indian Land; 11 Keenan; 18 at Camden; 25 Fairfield Central. November- 1 Bye
Clover: August- 23 York; 30 Forestview. September- 6 at South Point (N.C.); 13 at Ashbrook (N.C.); 20 Bye; 27 at Irmo. October- 4 Nation Ford; 11 at Northwestern; 18 at Rock Hill; 25 Catawba Ridge. November- 1 Fort Mill.
Fort Mill: August- 23 River Bluff; 30 at Chester. September- 6 Lancaster; 13 at Camden; 20 Lugoff-Elgin; 27 at York. October- 4 Rock Hill; 11 Nation Ford; 18 Bye; 25 at Northwestern. November- 1 at Clover.
Great Falls: August- 23 C.A. Johnson; 30 at Whitmire. September- 6 Lewisville; 13 Andrew Jackson; 20 at Dixie; 27 at Ware Shoals. October- 4 at Camden Military; 11 Bye; 18 at McBee; 25 Lamar. November- 1 at Timmonsville.
Indian Land: August- 23 at Lancaster; 30 at Buford. September- 6 York; 13 Rock Hill; 20 Nation Ford; 27 at South Pointe. October- Chester; 11 Bye; 18 at Keenan; 25 Camden. November- 1 at Fairfield Central.
Lancaster: August- 23 Indian Land; 30 at Fairfield Central. September- 6 at Fort Mill; 13 Nation Ford; 20 Chester; 27 Open. October- 4 at Richland Northeast; 11 at South Pointe; 18 York; 25 at Westwood. November- 1 Ridge View.
Legion Collegiate: August- 23 Bye; 30 Greenwood Raptors. September- 6 TBD; 13 at Calhoun Falls Charter; 20 Life Christian Academy; 27 at Oceanside Collegiate. October- 4 at Charleston Math and Science; 11 at Hemingway; 17 at Greenville Hurricanes (Thursday game); 25 Commonwealth Charter Bulls. November- 1 TBD
Lewisville: August- 23 at Eau Claire; 30 C.A. Johnson. September- 6 at Great Falls; 13 Carolina Bearcats; 20 Bye; 27 Central. October- 4 Buford; 11 at Lee Central; 18 Andrew Jackson; 25 at North Central. November- 1 at Chesterfield.
Nation Ford: August- 23 Spartanburg; 30 at Conway. September- 6 South Pointe; 13 at Lancaster; 20 at Indian Land; 27 Bye. October- 4 at Clover; 11 at Fort Mill; 18 Northwestern; 25 Rock Hill. November- 1 Chapin.
Northwestern: August- 24 South Pointe (played 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday because Rock Hill High has Friday night home game); 30 Byrnes. September- 6 at Dorman; 13 at Ridge View; 20 at Sumter; 27 Dutch Fork. October- 4 Bye; 11 Clover; 18 at Nation Ford; 25 Fort Mill. November- 1 at Rock Hill.
Rock Hill: August- 23 Sumter; 30 at South Pointe. September- 6 Chester; 13 at Indian Land; 20 York; 27 at Lugoff-Elgin. October- 4 at Fort Mill; 11 Bye; 18 Clover; 25 at Nation Ford. November- 1 Northwestern.
South Pointe: August- 24 at Northwestern (played 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday because Rock Hill High has Friday night home game); 30 Rock Hill. September- 6 at Nation Ford; 13 Bye; 20 at Greenville; 27 Indian Land. October- 4 at Westwood; 11 Lancaster; 18 at Richland Northeast; 25 at Ridge View. November- 1 York.
York: August- 23 at Clover; 30 Dorman. September- 6 at Indian Land; 13 Bye; 20 at Rock Hill; 27 Fort Mill. October- 4 Ridge View; 11 Westwood; 18 at Lancaster; 25 Richland Northeast. November- at South Pointe.