Union County Jackets ready to rumble
By BRIAN WHITMORE
Sports Editor - Union Daily Times
The Union County Yellow Jackets are young and need experience, but coaches and players have high hopes for the 2008 football season.
"We lost a ton off last year's football team, nine on offense and eight to nine on defense," said coach David Lipsey. "That's a big loss, about as big a loss as I've gone through as a head coach.
"We've got a lot of guys that have to step up and play on Friday nights that haven't played before. We're inexperienced and the only way we're going to get better is to play. We tell our players - play by play, practice by practice, week by week, get better. Hopefully, by the end of the year we'll be hitting our stride in region and get ready for the playoffs. That's what every team wants, we just have a lot of unknowns right now."
Seventy players make up the varsity and junior varsity football teams, with 53 on the varsity squad. The team has 26 seniors.
On offense, UCHS will be replacing nine players on the line and in the backfield. The two returning players are receivers Deon Thompson and Jeremy Porter.
The Jackets are finding their way on offense, using one-back, four-wide gun; two-back, three-wide gun; and option.
Filling out the rest of the offense are Jay Thompson at left guard, Will Smith at left tackle, Dewayne Rogers and Brian Wells at center, guard Travis Black, right tackle Jarred O'Shields, guard/tackle Clay Moore, Aaron Wells, Kendrick Byrd and Brandon Newton at tight end.
Nick Monroe, Keiston Stevens and Anwan Curenton, all juniors, vie for the quarterback position. Bradley Robbins is the fullback, senior Lamont Edney, Mike Mebane and Dierris Beacham are tailbacks. Danny Grady is a senior receiver.
"Our quarterbacks have worked real hard this summer," said Lipsey. "It starts up front and we've got two good seniors in Will Smith and Jay Thompson. Their leadership in our strength program has been very good. We're going to look to them to anchor those two positions, while the other guys get experience. Jarred O'Shields has a chance to be a very good offensive lineman and Travis Black has done a good job. They just need time, games, they need to play. We've got to get them out there against competition."
UCHS returns four starters on defense. Kendrick Brewton moves from safety to corner, Kelvin Hardy is an outside linebacker, Sylvester Moore is a linebacker and Desmond Floyd is a defensive end. Brewton, Hardy and Moore are seniors and Floyd a sophomore. Brewton and Hardy started every game last season. Moore missed much of last season with a shoulder injury. Floyd may also see some time on offense.
Tevin Thompson, a senior, is the nose tackle and a vocal leader of the team. Defensive tackles are Drell Smith, Nick Jackson and Floyd.
Inside linebackers are Neil Washington, Dylan Lawson and John Simmons Fallaw. Moore will play inside or outside. Hardy, Jordan Sims and Deon Smith are outside linebackers.
Safeties are Brennan Crosby, Kyle Trantham and Ricky Rice. Corners are Kendrick Brewton, Dionta Palmer and Alex Tucker. Erik Beaty and LaBrian Smith are up and coming at this position. Brewton is probably the best here, but is nursing an ankle injury.
The defense will base from a 3-4 and is under the direction of new coordinator Chip Bailey, who also will coach outside linebackers.
"We've got a new defensive coordinator, Chip Bailey is coming in and putting in a new scheme," said coach Lipsey. "We've got the learning curve there, we were very basic in our first scrimmage. We just played base defense, we didn't send linebackers or anything. We're trying to learn them from the bottom up. Right now we're in the process of learning. The young men have responded well.
"Up front, Tevin Thompson is a vocal leader. I feel good about our tackles Nick Jackson and Drell Smith, coming off the end Desmond Floyd. Our linebacker crew can run and that's one reason we're going to 3-4. Sylvester Moore, Kelvin Hardy, Neil Washington, Dylan Lawson, Deon Smith and Jordan Sims on the other side - we've got some kids that can run.
"We've got to shore up the secondary. We're young at the safety position. We lost our safeties and moved Kendrick from safety to corner. We're concerned about our safeties. Again, they just need to play. They're learning, but we need them to grow up quick."
On special teams, Alex Tucker will handle kickoffs and extra points. Nick Monroe and Danny Grady will be punters. Return men will be Dionta Palmer, Michael Mebane, Lamont Edney and Dierris Beacham. Snappers are Jarred O'Shields, Clay Moore and Brennan Newton.
"Coach (Caleb) Clark does an excellent job with the special teams," said Lipsey. "Alex really came along and got to kicking the ball well last year. We're getting our kickoffs constantly inside the 5-yard line. We've got good height.
"Nick and Danny will battle it out for whose going to punt, but I think we've got some ability."
"Returning, Dionta Palmer has looked good catching and returning punts. Dierris Beacham also has looked good on punt and kick returns. I think we've got some speed back there that can possibly make some things happen on special teams."
UCHS has two new coaches - Bailey and Brian Smith at wide receivers. Smith has been a head coach at several high schools and at North Greenville College. Bailey has coached in high school, most recently in Texas, and also at North Greenville.
"We're lucky to have them both," said Lipsey. "I think they add a lot to our coaching staff."
Other coaches returning are: Dave Maness (offensive coordinator), Bryan Robinson (offensive line), Rocky Cooper (running backs), Caleb Clark (tight ends, special teams), Todd Davis (defensive line), Cedric Jeter (inside linebackers), Clarence Sanders (safeties) and Tommy Petty (corners).
"I like our coaching staff," said Lipsey. "They work hard. They really get after it. They look out for the kids best interest and the development of the kid away from the football field also."
The Jackets also have a new strength coach in Duane Nelson.
"He's done an excellent job in getting us in shape and getting us ready," said Lipsey. "I think we came into the season in very good shape. This is something that's going to pay off down the road."
As usual, the Jackets' non-region schedule is tough, with Chester (upper state champs), Spartanburg and Gaffney (4A powers), Laurens (4A team led by former Jacket coach Greg Lawson) and Broome.
"I think our non-region schedule is pretty balanced and really tough," said Lipsey.
UCHS competes in Region III-3A and it's a strong conference. Clinton and Riverside return most everybody and Greer has a lot of players coming back as well. Chapman and former Jacket coach Kevin Farmer joins the fray, fresh off competing for a 2A state title. Blue Ridge was strong last year and looks for an encore.
"It's a very competitive region," said Lipsey. "Every Friday night you're going to be in for a battle. You've got some very good football teams that you've got to compete against to win the region championship."
The Jackets fans expect nothing less than the best from their team. UCHS needs some polish, but should be a playoff contender.
"Wešve just got a lot of young guys that are starting for the first time," said Lipsey. "We know we're going to make mistakes, but we've got to correct them and get better every time we go out on the field. That's what we're trying to teach them. Get better, make mistakes, but don't make them twice.
"It's a young team, an inexperienced football team. I know
nobody wants to hear that, but it's the truth. We're working extremely hard and
I think we'll be OK."
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