Smithfield-Selma is coming off of one of the most meaningful victories in the history of its football program entering the 2014 season.
The last time the Spartans walked off of a football field they had just finished off a wild second-half comeback win over rival South Johnston. The 22-21 win ended a 40-game losing streak for Smithfield-Selma, which was the state’s longest.
It also gave SSS the somewhat rare distinction of being a team that ended its season with a win.
“There aren’t a lot of teams out there who finished their season with a victory last year,” Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhon said. “Only a select few end with wins because of the playoffs, of course.”
Never miss a local story.
The win infused Smithfield-Selma’s returning players in the off-season as the team works toward returning to the point where Spartan football wins are not a rarity.
“It really helped us leading into our off-season work,” Lawhon said. “We had better attendance in our weight room sessions, our fitness is better across the board since we’ve come back after the dead period. The guys are more excited.”
The one area that the season-ending win Lawhon hoped would be more impacted more is the simple number of players in the program. But that hasn’t happened; the SSS varsity squad will still number about two dozen players, 16 of those seniors.
What the gold and blue lacks in quantity, they should be much better equipped from a quality standpoint.
“We just have to avoid the injury bug better than we have in the past,” Lawhon said.
The Spartans’ offensive line could be one of the best in the area with four starters back: senior Kodi Satterfield (6-foot-4, 240 pounds), John Gibbons (6-3, 230), Erick Alvarado and John Lucas (6-2, 245). A fifth player — senior Antonio Blake (5-10, 280) — would be a returning starter if he didn’t miss the 2013 season after suffering an injury.
“They’ve been together for three years,” Lawhon said. “They work out as a unit so much together. In the weights, on the grass, footwork drills. They do it together. They communicate very well.”
Running back Tyler McDougle (6-0, 185) is also back in the starting lineup. Chris Tappin and Brandon Bales are the likely leaders at the receiver position, while De’Quan White (also coming back after suffering a season-ending injury last season) and Raequan Smith will contribute in the backfield as well.
“That’s where everything starts,” Lawhon said of his lines. “Having that confidence in controlling the line of scrimmage it gives your quarterback more confidence. It means running backs are more confident that there will be holes to run through. It gives us confidence throughout our whole offense.”
The Spartans are working with two quarterbacks in the preseason with junior C.J. Turner and sophomore Austin Blackmon. Lawhon said both quarterbacks are strong throwing the ball but that Turner gives the SSS offense more of a speed threat running the ball.
The success of the SSS defense will rely on the middle of the unit with three returnees lining up at linebacker: Lucas (who shifts from the defensive line to the middle linebacker spot), McDougald, Smith and Chris Tappin. Two other starters return as well, Alvarado on the line and Bales at safety.
Navigating one of the area’s most challenging non-conference schedules without falling victim to numerous injuries is going to be a key as SSS gets ready for Two Rivers 3A Conference play. The Spartans hit the road to take on two 4A opponents in August (West Johnston and Middle Creek) and meet rival Clayton (another 4A school at home) in addition to games against Southern Wayne, Wilson Fike and Northern Nash.
“We’re gonna know where we stand after that for sure,” Lawhon said. “If we can stay healthy through that, we’ll be a much better football team because of it.”