Clayton Geathers ignored some of his closest confidants when he elected to go to Central Florida over the likes of South Carolina and Georgia back in 2010.
The former Carvers Bay standout is sure happy he did now.
Geathers was one of the defensive cornerstones for UCF’s Fiesta Bowl champion team. The Knights defeated Baylor on New Year’s Day in one of the final BCS games before the four-team playoff commences next year.
Geathers had 10 tackles in that victory, in the process bringing some more well-deserved attention to Carvers Bay.
“As a guy who likes to play football, coming from a small school, it just motivated the people from my area,” Geathers said by phone. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. You can come from anywhere and play in the big game and get the recognition. It was a blessing come true for me and my family.”
The safety again started all 13 games for the Knights, piling up 100 total tackles (second on the team), 10 pass break-ups, 4.5 tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. He was named to the All-American Athletic Conference second team and was the league’s defensive player of the week after a monster game against SMU in December sealed an outright conference title for UCF.
He drew upon some of those experiences, as well as some family advice from cousin Kwame Geathers, to mentally prepare for the Fiesta Bowl.
“He just told me, ‘prepare like you would for any other game,’ ” Clayton Geathers said. “It was a big game, but every game is the same. You have to find the medium in every game. There’s going to be highs; there’s going to be lows. But stay in the medium.”
Geathers’ performance led some to wonder about his immediate future, although he said any thoughts of the NFL will have to wait until this time next year.
Geathers said he filed NFL draft evaluation paperwork with the league. He wouldn’t divulge where his potential draft stock was rated, although he did say it was indicative enough to keep him at the Orlando campus for his senior season.
“I want to graduate,” he said. “That was something my mom wanted to see me do. I wanted to finish with the guys I started with. What people did for me, I want to do for them.
“I told my parents I made a decision. I’m staying another year, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
UCF will have a number of losses from this year’s team, none bigger than quarterback Blake Bortles, who is leaving early for his own NFL path. However, the Knights will have early opportunities to impress.
George O’Leary’s team opens against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland, in a nationally televised broadcast before also playing Missouri and BYU during the non-conference schedule.
Another 12-1 season could lead to the type of hoopla UCF and Geathers gained after winning the Fiesta Bowl.
“When we got off the plane, there were fans at the airport. When we got back to school, there were so many people out there, cameras everywhere,” he said. “There was so much love.
“We enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great win. But come spring ball, it’s a new season. We have to put this season behind us and move forward. We can’t rely on this season.”
Region play firing up, but without much size
As the area’s boys basketball teams are starting region play this week, there is one recurring theme affecting nearly every local school.
A lack of height.
From Conway to North Myrtle Beach to Waccamaw, true post players are in short order. In fact, according to official rosters, there are fewer than five players on area teams who stand 6-foot-6 or taller.
“It is very guard oriented, more this year than any other,” said Carolina Forest coach Brian Brunson, whose tallest player, freshman Duane Moss, is 6-foot-4. “We played Wando, and they’re starting lineup was 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, 6-6 and 6-9. Strategically, you try to schedule a diverse group so when you get to region you’ve played against it.”
At times, several teams on the Grand Strand have had four and even five guards on the court at one time. It’s out of necessity, but that doesn’t mean it can’t bring about some positive results.
North Myrtle Beach raced to an 11-3 record despite its tallest player being 6-foot-1.
Naturally, the number of guards on the court when some of these teams face off in region play could increase the pace of play. In some games, it could lead to an all-out race to out-run the opponent.
Youth is served
Coach Shamae Hemingway is off to one of her better starts with her Conway girls basketball team.
And while there’s plenty of ball to be played this season, the Tigers’ season could hinge on the play of three very young starters. A pair of eighth-graders – guard Aishera Williams and post player Janecia Hemingway – are joined by freshman guard Zakera Chadmon.
The trio of youngsters has been matched up with senior forwards LaShonda Green and Miko Johnson in the starting lineup, as well as Tierra Spain, a senior, and sophomore Danielle Robinson off the bench.
“That’s a group that’s been playing together for a while,” Hemingway said. “That means a lot going into region play, having six-seven consistent players ready to go.”
Williams, averaging around eight points per game this season, broke out for a 19-point outing against North Myrtle Beach last week in one of the team’s final non-region games. Against the likes of South Florence, West Florence, Sumter and Carolina Forest, more top-notch performances like that could be the difference in finally getting back to the postseason. The Tigers have not qualified for the Class AAAA playoffs since the 2007-2008 season.
The area’s other girls team from the state’s largest class is also playing with similar youth. Carolina Forest, which has just 10 total players, has four eighth-graders listed on its varsity roster. Two, guards Cheyenne Pyle and Jalah Horton, are regular starters.
Wrestling statewide rankings
Five Grand Strand wrestling teams are ranked among the state’s best in the most recent SCMat.com rankings, released Friday.
Socastee remained No. 3 in Class AAA, while St. James moved up to No. 10. North Myrtle Beach, which fell to the Braves last week, was dropped to No. 20.
Braves juniors Justin Knipper (120 pounds) and Zach Mor (182 pounds) also remained the top individuals in the state in their respective weight classes.
In Class AA/A, Aynor is still No. 4 and Waccamaw is No. 16.
Blue Jacket seniors Hunter Johnson and DQ Nash held on to the No. 1 individual spots at 106 and 220 pounds, respectively.
Former NMB safety heading to Glenville State
Eric Baker narrowly missed his opportunity to play NCAA Division I football last year.
After spending the fall at Gray Military Academy outside of Columbia, the former North Myrtle Beach standout is off to a different four-year school. Baker was set to enroll at Glenville State, a NCAA Division II program in West Virginia, this week. He will be considered a mid-year transfer and still have four seasons of eligibility remaining, per North Myrtle Beach coach Perry Woolbright.
Baker was originally committed to Navy, and he signed his letter of intent with the Midshipmen last year. However, he fell short of the academic requirements and instead enrolled at Gray Military.
As a Chiefs senior, Baker had 27 tackles, two pass deflections and a forced fumble despite dealing with some injury issues. Later in his final year of high school, he was named to the Toast of the Coast wrestling team after going 35-5 on the mat and finishing second in the 182-pound weight division in the Class AAA state tournament.