Jody Jenerette contends losing football is a thing of the past at Aynor.
The ninth-year coach, with memories of the team’s first winning season in more than a decade still fresh in his mind, is ready to add a third straight year with a playoff victory to the Blue Jackets’ history books.
Gone are the days when he was spending early August asking more players to come out to camp simply to fill out his roster.
“It’s starting to feel like a real high school football job,” Jenerette said. “I don’t have to beg, I don’t have to plead, seeing if this guy is coming to practice today. I don’t have guys holding me hostage any more. … We actually have competition for jobs before, something we’ve never had before.”
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That much is a good sign, even if departures from last year’s squad depleted the depth at the team’s most important position. Running backs Hunter Windham, Ronique Smith and Damion Riggins – a trio who accounted for 2,979 of the team’s 3,600 rushing yards – have all moved on.
In their place, the Blue Jackets now have six wings capable of carrying the ball. Some have running back experience on the varsity level; others have started at other positions for Jenerette.
The entire team, however, understands this is an offense that is going to run the ball time and time again. That stability helped the Blue Jackets turn the corner last season.
“There’s a winning mentality in Aynor. We’re hungry for wins,” senior four-year starter DQ Nash said. “We’re one of the underdogs. People look at us and say ‘they only run the ball.’ We showed last year what running the ball can do.”
The team amassed six victories by double-digit margins, with two of those such wins coming in region play. The Blue Jackets will still have Region VIII-AA opponents Dillon and Loris to contend with. This time around, Aynor believes it has even more horses to keep those games from becoming the blowouts they’ve been in years past.
It may start with Nathan Peeples, a senior making the move from quarterback to a wing/receiver role. Peeples, one of the faster players on the team, will be moved around to create opportunities. Fullback Louis Taylor will help fill Riggins’ void.
The Blue Jackets are also bringing back more than half of the seven players they use on the line – including tight ends. Jenerette called Nash, who starts at tight end, the best blocker he’s coached at the school. If the rest of the line comes close to his production, Aynor may just be able to withstand the losses en route to another winning season.
Of course, the unsung strength of last year’s team must also be sustained.
“Not fumbling is why we won last year,” said Jenerette, whose team lost just three all season. “If you’re going to fumble the ball, you’re not going to have a job. When you’re counting on guys who haven’t bought in, it’s hard.”
That’s not the case so far this fall.
“Coach Jenerette’s brought this program a long way,” Nash said. “It’s up to us to keep it going. … We’ve got to improve and do as well as we did last year, if not better.”