Jody Jenerette has spent the past few years answering a repetitive preseason question.
Could Aynor, with a non-region schedule that no longer looks as imposing as it would have just a half decade back, actually get through September without a loss?
“We call it the 5-0 jinx,” Jenerette said. “Every year, we always say we have a chance to start 5-0 and we screw it up somehow.”
Last year, the Blue Jackets lost their opener to eventual Class AAA playoff qualifier Gilbert. The year before, it was an out-of-place loss to Latta, one Aynor sandwiched with blowout victories over similarly sized teams.
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In 2012, it was another season-opening loss that prevented a super-hot start.
But here’s the funny thing: Prior to that season, the Blue Jackets didn’t win five games total in any of Jenerette’s first seven years leading his alma mater. Times have certainly changed.
The Blue Jackets will again be gunning for that perfect first half of the season. And despite the losses of the team’s two-most stat-stuffing players, there is a very real possibility of it happening.
Aynor opens up on the road at Creek Bridge before getting four straight home games, including three more against Class A opponents. If the team “avoids that jinx,” as starting tailback Jalen Dixon says, the Blue Jackets would have matched last year’s win total before region play opens.
“We say now that we’re going to beat every team we have,” Dixon said. “Right now, Coach says we’re an eight-win team. As a player, we feel like we can win all of our games. I don’t want another last year. It can’t happen. It won’t happen.”
Getting to that seven- or eight-win plateau the team reached in 2013 and 2012, respectively, will require Dixon and a number of other ball carriers to make up for the losses of Daquan Smith and Kamron Johnson. The two players each topped 1,100 yards while averaging better than five yards per carry in the run-oriented scheme.
Dixon was no slouch, going for just shy of 500 yards and seven touchdowns in a part-time role.
But Jenerette isn’t going to force Dixon to make up for all that production on his own. He’ll have help in the backfield, and from an unlikely source. Junior quarterback Caleb Jenerette, the coach’s nephew, will be sliding into the signal-caller role full-time.
“He’ll be the first true dual-threat quarterback I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Jody Jenerette said. “In years past, we’ve been snapping the ball straight to running backs and there was no threat of throwing the ball. He gives us the opportunity to rise up and throw.”
He’ll have a couple of solid targets in tight end Aaron Cowing and receiver Blake Gore, as well as one of the more experienced offensive lines in the area.
Aynor’s 11-year head coach believes a defense expected to include 11 senior starters should make an overall difference, too.
“It doesn’t bode well for the future,” Jenerette said. “But we’re living in the moment.”
And trying to prevent the jinx.
This is the third installment of a 12-day series previewing the area’s high school football teams. Monday: Loris.
Coach: Jody Jenerette (42-69 in 10 seasons at Aynor and overall)
Last year: 5-6, 2-3 Region VIII-AA; lost in first round of Class AA, Division I playoffs
Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense
Strengths: There are coaches on the Grand Strand who aren’t returning a single starter on the offensive line. Aynor will have four. Shawn Tarr, Dalton Hubbard, Zach Hodge and tight end Aaron Cowing represent 934 pounds. Now tack on at least two more lineman (Aynor usually has seven with their hands in the dirt) and experience combined with size should keep the offense moving.
Weaknesses: The Blue Jackets gave up 29.7 points per game last year. That figured jumped to 34 in their five region games. It’s part of the reason Aynor backed into the playoffs and then got matched up with state powerhouse Dillon in the opening round. Getting that defense shored up isn’t just a priority – it is downright necessary to finishing above .500.
Three players to watch
Caleb Jenerette, Jr., QB: Splitting time with Jackson Woodle last year, Jenerette threw for 253 yards and completed just shy of 50 percent of his passes.
Blake Gore, Sr., WR: At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, Gore has been Aynor’s best player so far early in camp, according to Jody Jenerette.
Tahja Washington, Sr., LB: The outside linebacker could be the much-needed playmaker on a defense that didn’t create enough impact plays a year ago.
at Creek Bridge
Green Sea Floyds
West Columbus (N.C.)