Union County’s Yellow Jackets had an uncharacteristic down year in 2008, but they look to rebound in a big way in 2009.
“We gained a lot of experience last year,” said coach David Lipsey. “We played a lot of young people. They were thrown into the fire, but they came out better for it and we’re expecting good play this year.”
Coaches have seen good things in the team’s preparation for the new year.
“We had a good spring and a great summer,” said Lipsey. “The guys were dedicated about working. We feel good about this group of seniors. It’s a good group that wants to do things right.”
UCHS finished 5-6 last season, 3-2 and third in region play, falling in the first round of the playoffs. The Jackets are not used to exiting the playoffs that early and have worked hard in the off-season to make sure things will be better this year.
It won’t be easy. Chester played for a state title, Laurens for a upperstate crown, Gaffney and Spartanburg are Big 16 powerhouses. In region play, Greer and Clinton are always tough and Chapman is much improved.
“It’s a tough road,” said Lipsey. “The early part of the season is brutal.”
Still, the Jackets look to sting early and often in ‘09. They’ve got the tools, with a roster of about 50 varsity athletes and 23 seniors to lead the way. The coaching staff is intact — seven players return on offense and eight on defense.
On offense, UCHS will run the double wing and some shotgun. Nick Monroe, a senior, will lead the team at quarterback. He started the final six games in 2008 and Lipsey said he’s worked hard over the summer.
Tate Knox, a senior, and John Simmons Fallaw bring power and strength at fullback. Michael Mebane, a senior, will be a force at running back. Mebane averaged about nine yards per carry last season and has good speed.
Other backs are: Dierris Beacham, a junior, with breakaway speed and Michael Johnson. Beacham may see some time at slot receiver.
On the line, Brian Wells (center), Travis Black (a senior right guard) and Jarred O’Shields (right tackle) return. Dillon West, Austin Miller and Zack Ledford are in the mix at left guard, and Jason Adams at left tackle. Dewayne Rogers also will see snaps at center.
At tight end are senior Neil Washington, Kendrick Byrd, Ja-Marcus Rice and Desmond Floyd, who’ll see time at wide receiver.
Keiston Stevens has moved from quarterback to wide receiver. He makes plays and has speed. Calvin Williams and Brennon Crosby also will be looking to grab passes.
Some players on offense will be asked to go on defense also. The defense will base from a 4-3.
Defensive ends are Floyd, Drell Smith and Rice. Nick Jackson, Knox and Wells are at defensive tackle.
Washington and Fallaw are at middle linebacker. Jordan Sims, Crosby, Deon Smith and Brian Dill are at outside linebacker. Crosby moves over from safety.
Kyle Trantham, a senior, Rick Rice, Williams, Robert Littlejohn and Dane Nelson are safeties. Erik Beaty, Alex Tucker, Josh Armstrong, LaBrian Smith and Beacham are at corner.
Tucker returns to kick. Jackson also can kick. Monroe returns to punt and O’Shields is the snapper. Lipsey said special teams should be pretty good for the Jackets.
The Jackets looked good in scrimmages, but also identified things to work on.
“We’re working on coming together as a team and doing things the right way,” said Lipsey.
The Jackets’ athletic department will be sponsored by Under Armour. UCHS has new away jerseys this year.
Aug. 21: at Chester, 8
Aug. 28: Spartanburg, 7:30
Sept. 11: at Gaffney, 7:30
Sept. 18: Laurens, 7:30
Sept. 25: at Broome, 7:30
Oct. 2: Greer, 7:30
Oct. 9: Riverside, 7:30
Oct. 16: at Chapman, 7:30
Oct. 23: Clinton, 7:30
Oct. 30: at Blue Ridge, 7:30