A decade ago, the most well-known aspect of the South Johnston football program was its lack of victories. Those days are long gone as the Trojans have become one of the more consistent programs around, making the playoffs in six of the previous seven seasons.
The Trojans won just eight games from 1999-2005 but have since won conference championships, played in a state championship game and consistently fielded one of the more high-scoring teams in the Triangle.
Continuity has become a trademark of the South program over the past five seasons, first under former coach Joe Salas and now under Shane Dular.
And 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 that advanced to the second round of the 3A playoffs.
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“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 led by 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 the inside slot receiver spot to the outside.
Normally, having just one returning starter back at receiver isn’t a great issue for many teams but for the Trojans – who like to play eight receivers a game – it creates a lot of opportunities for inexperienced players.
Dular said Chris Beasley, Paul Ray, Drew Mustgrave (a transfer from Smithfield-Selma), David Ennis, Jarrod Raynor and Brock Thornton are all in contention for playing time at receiver.
The Trojans have had one of the better runs of starting quarterbacks over the past decade and Dular expects that trend to continue even with a new starter in tow.
Senior Garrett Smith makes the shift from wide receiver to starting quarterback for South.
Dular said the transition from catcher to thrower has gone very 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 program and it will need to continue to be with a 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’s defense has just two starters back – linebacker Tyler Barefoot and cornerback Omar Sellers – but Dular 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 could be a key contributor at linebacker as well.
“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 with now six games on their schedule falling under the category of rivalry games. The Trojans meet five fellow Johnston County squads (Clayton and West Johnston in non-conference play; Corinth Holders, Cleveland and Smithfield in conference) as well as Triton. The South-Triton rivalry has quietly become one of the better rivalries in the area since the two came together in the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference.
“It’s certainly a challenging schedule, but we’ll do everything we can to meet that challenege,” said Dular, whose team also faces 4A East Wake and highly-touted 1A school Red Springs in non-conference 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.”