FOUR OAKS — A decade ago, the most well-known aspect of the South Johnston High football program was its lack of victories.
Those days are long gone, as the Trojans have become one of the most consistent programs around, making the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons.
The Trojans won just eight games from 1999-2005 but since have won conference championships, played in a state title game and consistently fielded one of the highest-scoring teams in the Triangle.
Continuity has become a trademark of the South Johnston program over the past five seasons, first under former coach Joe Salas, then under current coach Shane Dular.
It’s that continuity the Trojans are relying on as they rebuild a varsity roster with just six starters returning from last year’s 8-4 squad, which advanced to the second round of the 3A playoffs.
“We have good young players,” Dular said. “We’re excited about our juniors and sophomores.
“We don’t have the numbers in the upper part of our program that we’ve had in years past.”
The Trojans return four starters on offense: linemen Luke Tart and Thomas Lee, running back Clarence Crawford and receiver Devin Harris.
Crawford will get help from junior Eric Bowles, who Dular calls explosive, while Harris moves from inside slot receiver to the outside.
For many teams, having just one returning starter at receiver isn’t a big issue, but for the Trojans – who like to play eight receivers a game – it means inexperienced players will take the field.
Dular said Chris Beasley, Paul Ray, Drew Mustgrave (a transfer from Smithfield-Selma), David Ennis, Jarrod Raynor and Brock Thornton are in contention for playing time at receiver.
The Trojans have had good starting quarterbacks over the past decade, and Dular expects that trend to continue; senior Garrett Smith has shifted from wide receiver to starting quarterback.
Dular said the transition from catcher to thrower has gone smoothly for Smith: “He knows our system backwards and forwards. He knows where the ball’s supposed to go in our offense as good as anybody.”
Point production has been a hallmark of the South Johnston program, and it must continue, given the Trojan’s young defense in the new Two Rivers 3A Conference. The Trojans have scored 30 or more points in 36 of their last 52 games.
South Johnston’s defense has just two starters returning – linebacker Tyler Barefoot and cornerback Omar Sellers – but Dular said he likes the potential of the unit.
“We’ll put a pretty good little junior-varsity defense on the field on Friday nights,” Dular said. “So they’ll have to grow up fast. We’re young, but we’ll pride ourselves on our work ethic.”
Sophomore Chandler Johnson also could be a key contributor at linebacker.
“Above all, in order to play defense for South Johnston, you have to be a hustle player,” Dular said. “If you’re not a hustle player, you can’t play defense for us. We’re going to get 11 hats to the ball. We preach it; our program’s built on it.”
The move to the Two Rivers Conference brings new challenges for South Johnston, with six games on its schedule falling in the rivalry category.
The Trojans meet five fellow Johnston County squads – Clayton and West Johnston in nonconference play; Corinth Holders, Cleveland and Smithfield in conference – as well as Triton. The South Johnston-Triton matchup has quietly become one of the better rivalries in the area since the two joined the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference.
“It’s certainly a challenging schedule, but we’ll do everything we can to meet that challenge,” said Dular, whose team also faces 4A East Wake and highly-touted 1A school Red Springs in nonconference play.
“This will be a typical South Johnston team. The guys will play as hard as they can for four quarters and show a lot of heart.”
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