Hunter Jenks was around to help build South Johnston’s most successful football team ever.
And the new head coach says the Trojans may not be far away from reaching that level of play again.
Jenks, a former Wake Forest High and Elon lineman who was an assistant at South Johnston in 2007, had been an assistant at Wakefield and Corinth Holders before returning to the Trojans in 2011. He had been an offensive and a defensive coordinator before being named as the replacement for Shane Dular.
South Johnston went 2-9 last season, missing the playoffs for the second time since 2006. The Trojans’ 2009 season – in which they went 14-2 en route to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Eastern 3AA championship and beat archrival Smithfield-Selma for the first time in 37 tries – had started a run of four straight postseason appearances.
South Johnston also had beaten Two Rivers 3A rival Smithfield-Selma four straight times until a one-point loss last season.
“It meant a lot to beat them in 2009, but it also meant a lot to lose to them last year,” Jenks said of Smithfield-Selma. “We don’t want to let that happen again.”
The Trojans will return five starters on offense and seven on defense. The biggest loss was all-conference quarterback Garrett Smith, who graduated.
Senior wideout D.D. Harris and junior defensive end Toronte Howard made all-conference last season, while senior safety Tyler Barefoot made all-region two years ago but missed most of last season with injuries.
Harris is the most proven weapon on offense with 76 catches for 1,011 yards and five touchdowns last season.
“We want (Harris) to get 20 touches a game,” Jenks said. “And he’ll play some corner in critical situations.”
Senior Luke Tart is a stalwart on the offensive line, returning alongside junior guard Donavan Guignard. Wideout Chris Beasley and running back Eric Bowles, both seniors, are the other returning starters at the skill positions.
Junior Chandler Johnson is a starter at defensive end, and will also play tight end in the red zone.
The other returning starters on defense are sophomore nose guard Danny Morales and seniors linebacker Cliff McLamb, cornerback Melvin Benton and safety D’Angelo Surles.
Junior Yavani Herrea is back to handle the placekicking duties.
Jenks said South Johnston’s sophomore and freshman classes are loaded with talent, and six sophmores may start. DeParis Patterson will go at quarterback while Caleb Robinson will play outside linebacker. Josh Bradshaw will be on the offensive line, with Fabian McDonald and Lawrence Reddick at wide receiver.
“We have a good senior class, but we’re very young at a lot of positions,” Jenks said. “Our kids are very, very hard workers. They eat, sleep and breathe it. I’ve gone home happy every day with the work we put in and I never dread coming to work.”
And he said he’s expecting good results.
“It would be a big disappointment if we don’t make the playoffs,” he said. “Last year we beat ourselves early in the season, and it compounded later on. We play a really tough non-conference schedule with four 4A teams. The games with Clayton and West (Johnston) are really big for us, but they won’t make or break our season.”