Successful seasons are not always measured in wins and losses, but in the effort and performances of the players participating on a given team. Such was the case of South Johnston’s 2014 football edition, which in ways exceeded pre-season prognostications and expectations.
Don’t tell that to the Trojans or to first-year head coach Hunter Jenks, who fought tooth-and-nail every snap of the ball.
While the record may not be glittering — South Johnston finished under .500 with a 5-7 ledger, they made everyone proud with their efforts.
Faced with a daunting schedule, the Trojans found themselves on the short end in five of their first six contests, and were not given much of a chance by many skeptics of faring very well in Two Rivers 3A Conference action. What the skeptics failed to notice was a never-say-die attitude exhibited by the Trojans, who fought back to respectable outcomes, regardless of the deficits faced.
And in doing so, South’s players came back to work on the practice field each Monday — more fortified by the previous Friday’s performance, win or lose — and stronger in the resolve to get better each practice and each upcoming game.
That determination paid off as the Trojans won four of their final five games, claiming a share of the Two Rivers Conference championship, as well as landing a state playoff berth, hosting West Craven in the NCHSAA 3A playoffs.
“It showed us the kids believed what we preached,” Jenks said. “As long as you work hard, you can live with the results.
“We had to do that because the kids did everything we asked of them. We had a great off-season, we had great weeks of practice and just a great season.”
And while the Trojans came up six inches and two points short of forcing overtime and possible victory, they left everyone — even opposing fans and players — impressed with their resolve.
Two gut-wrenching road losses in the first half of the season — a 40-34 defeat at Fayetteville Cape Fear followed by a 41-35 heart-breaker at then No. 7 state-ranked Wilson Fike — galvanized the Trojans for their conference run. Against the Golden Demons, South faced a 35-17 halftime deficit, then rallied to close the gap to six before being stopped at the doorstep of victory in the final minute.
The following week against rival Triton, South faced a 34-14 third-quarter deficit, but rallied to a 42-34 victory that turned the season around.
The Trojans never felt they were out of any game, despite the deficits they faced. They, to a man followed the requests of their coaches: to fight, to believe, to come back and to play as a team.
The Trojans did that — win or lose — on a weekly basis.
Jenks summed up his feelings on the season.
“It’s great to get a conference championship,” Jenks said. “And it feels great to play a home game in the playoffs. But you know, I think every last one of these kids expected to win every game we played in this year.”
Jenks then reflected on the seniors, who had played their final scholastic football game.
“Obviously Eric Bowles is a very talented running back,” Jenks said. “And Devin Harris unselfishly went to defense for us.
“Devin was our main go-to-receiver, and we asked him to go play corner back — and he did it unselfishly. That just goes to show his character.”
Also earning respectful raves were Spencer Stone and Aaron Fite. Jenks said when Stone first joined the Trojans’ program, he weighed a scant 110 pounds. “He worked his way to where he is now 150 pounds,” Jenks said, “And that is sheer muscle.”
Fite was not what could be a blue chip prospect by any means when he first stepped onto the gridiron.
“He was probably on of the least talented athletic players we had,” Jenks said. “and he, like Spencer just worked and didn’t quit. They got to the point they started each and every game for us this year and played really well.”
Jenks said the Trojans had 15 seniors, saying that he could go down the list (Devin Harris, Bowles, Christopher Beasley, Tyler Barefoot, Stone, Reggie Covington, Melvin Benton, Dangelo Surles, Dashaun Holiday, Jarrett Jones, Blair Mahiquez, Cliff McLamb, Charles Tart, Fite and Chris German), and that all had been fantastic throughout the season.
Jenks says the Trojans will have key pieces returning for the 2015 season.
“Offensively, we’ll be returning 3,000 yards of offense,” Jenks said. “Three out of four of our receivers (sophomores Javonte Smit and, Lawrence Reddick and junior Tyreekus Reddick) will be back. Then you throw in Fabian McDonald, a sophomore who put in quality minutes for us on the varsity.”
Also returning will be Patterson at quarterback and running back Kavante Johnson, who provided 40 yards on five carries during the Trojans’ final two scoring drives against the Eagles. Three members from the offensive line will also return.
Defensively, Jenks admitted several players would have to be replaced, but expects Chandler Johnson and Toronte Howard to return healthy and champing at the bit.
“Chandler and Toronte were banged up a lot this season. We have the pieces there,” Jenks surimsed. “We just have to work every single day of the off-season to see where it will get us. We could have a tremendous season next fall.
“We were happy with where we were at this season, but by no means were we satisfied. We just have to come back and work.”