CLOVER — The wait is over for the Clover High School football team and its loyal fan base.
The Blue Eagles begin a new era under first-year head coach Chad Smith when South Florence rolls into 9,000-seat Memorial Stadium Friday night. Kickoff time is set for 7:30 p.m. for the 2013 season opener in Blue Eagle Country.
Smith, who transformed Easley football from the depths of despair to title contenders, is familiar with Friday’s opponent.
“South Florence is a talented team that is very athletic,” he said after a two-and-a -half hour Monday evening practice. “They’ve hit the weight room big and have advanced to the playoffs the last four years.”
Having made the playoffs last season, South Florence returns 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Nick Jones, receiver Josh Johnson and Tabari Hines, who is expected to play mostly on offense after lining at defensive back last season.
Defensive back Malik Burgess and defensive end Joquan Felder are the top returners on that side of the ball.
The Bruins’ biggest concern is a linebacker, where they must replace all three starters.
The Blue Eagles have difference-makers on offense and players emerging on defense. Senior mainstay Scott Jackson, a third-year quarterback, has seen it all since his sophomore season.
Jackson operated out of the Wing-T his first year under center, then delved into the triple option before returning to his preferred offensive scheme this season.
Smith, who cut his teeth on the wing-T in the early stages of his coaching career, lauded Jackson’s quarterbacking.
“Scott’s doing a good job for us,” he said.
Another Blue Eagle senior stalwart, Ladarius Adams, has been known to tote the mail.
Smith’s take on the Blue Eagles during game week: “The kids are giving great effort and making progress. They are still learning. There will be some growing pains.”
Smith said the Blue Eagles are a little beaten up.
“We had so many scrimmages,” he noted.
Smith is a firm believer in the Wing-T, much like his predecessors, Jet Turner and Marty Woolbright. But Smith prefers more of a power version of the double-wing, smash-mouth football, if you will.
“Clover’s best years in football were built around the wing-T,” he said.
Though Smith is keenly aware of the need to rejuvenate the program, he is not one to dwell on the past, preferring to keep the conversation in the present tense when breaking down the Blue Eagle program,
Smith is not in the business of projecting wins two years down the road.
“We want our seniors to experience winning,” he said.
Jackson talked about how it felt to return to the Wing-T after his brief stint with the triple option scheme.
“The Wing-T is a lot simpler,” he noted. “It’s all about executing the offense. We’re making progress and looking for consistency. There’s still work to be done.”
Jackson, like many of his teammates, is caught up in the excitement of a new era in Blue Eagle Country. “It’s a different mindset,” he said.
Senior standout Chase Galant contributes on both sides of the ball as a running back and middle linebacker. Galant played as a ninth-grader and came back to the program his senior year. He likes what he has seen.
“I am glad I came back to Blue Eagle football,” said Galant. “There’s a lot of excitement. I look for us to have a good season.”
Following Friday’s clash with South Florence, the Blue Eagles return to Memorial Stadium Aug. 30 to host Forestview. Next will be a trip to Spring Valley and Boiling Springs at home before region play begins with a Sept. 27 home game against Nation Ford.