Hunter Jenks said he and his South Johnston football team had a lot of fun last season, bouncing back from a tough season the previous year to win a Two Rivers 3A co-championship and return to the state playoffs.
But the second-year coach, who has been with the program since 2011 after a short stint in 2007, said last year’s accomplishments set up a challenge for this season’s team.
“If you look back at the history of South Johnston, we’ve never repeated as a conference champion,” Jenks said. “Last year we were coming off a two-win season and we started to click towards the end of the season.
“The expectations are higher, and we need to be able to build on that. Last year at every level of our program we were meshing. Now everybody knows what to expect.”
And Jenks said he learned a lot from being in charge of a program.
“The biggest thing I learned was to double-check all my bases and not assume anybody knew anything,” he said. “Now the staff and the team have been together for a season, and it makes a big difference.”
Jenks said he wasn’t really surprised the Trojans (5-7, 4-1 last season) were able to win four of their five conference games because he saw young talent coming. And this season’s team will be more experienced up front on both sides of the ball.
“We have 23 rising seniors and most of them are linebackers and linemen,” he explained. “Our ‘box’ will be older. Last year was skill-position heavy and we have to replace that.
“Toronte Howard, who is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever seen, is a three-year starter and two-year all-conference and so is Chandler Johnson at linebacker. There is a lot of good quality depth returning in the senior class.”
Jenks said that with 125 players in the program and a sophomore on the depth chart at every position, only running back/linebacker Caeleb Robinson and receiver/safety Lawrence Reddick – both juniors – will usually play both ways. Reddick finished with 354 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season.
DeParis Patterson was first named starting quarterback as a sophomore last season, and that turned out to be a great decision when he finished with 2,399 yards total offense, throwing for 12 TDs and rushing for nine more.
Jenks said his biggest area of concern is depth at the tailback spot.
“That’s where we can’t afford any injuries,” Jenks said. “Everywhere else we’ve got about three deep seniors and juniors.”
Jenks said the Trojans have been building since Joe Salas’ 2009 team played in the state title game, and he just wants to keep progressing.
“I think it’s important that we’ve got guys in the program whose older brothers and cousins were playing on that team,” he said. “And we’re emphasizing life skills and being good at things that don’t take any talent, like being on time.”
South Johnston plays six games against Johnston County opponents this season, and Jenks said that is quite a challenge by itself.
“I think the caliber of football in Johnston County is as good as it has been in a very long time,” he said. “We’ve got some really solid head coaches and great rivalries here, and I think that’s a plus for all our programs.”
Base Offense: Spread.
Base Defense: 3-4.
Contributors: RB/LB Caeleb Robinson; WR/S Lawrence Reddick; DE Toronte Howard; QB DeParis Patterson; WR Tyreekus Reddick; DB Graham Swanson; LB Chandler Johnson; DE Josh Bunch; OT Donovan Guignard; OG Daniel Morales; OG Josh Bradshaw.
Expected team strength: Offensive and defensive lines.
Question mark: Running back.
Player they’ll miss the most: RB Eric Bowles, who carried for 1,423 yards and 18 TDs last season.
The main number: 125, the number of players South Johnston has in the program.
The quote: Jenks: “Football is won on the line of scrimmage. With what we have returning, I feel confident both will be positives for us. Our offensive line could be the best since (the state runner-up team in) 2009. And (defensive end) Toronte Howard could be one of the best in school history. He outworks everybody.”
Game to watch: Aug. 21 at Franklinton. Sophomore RB Ricky Person, who is getting attention from big-time colleges, including North Carolina, leads the 2A Red Rams (7-5).
Past five seasons
2014: 5-7 (4-1), 3A first round
2013: 2-9 (1-4)
2012: 8-4 (4-2), 3A second round
2011: 7-4 (4-2), 3A first round
2010: 8-5 (3-2), 3A second round