On most occasions, one is not encouraged to “poke the bear.”
But when Carvers Bay football players talk about the program and how it earned notoriety as a small-school powerhouse in South Carolina, a slight nudge on the shoulder of longtime football coach Nate Thompson is well worth it.
“Guys, I have two rings … two rings guys who came before you worked mighty hard for,” Thompson said. “It would mean the world to me to help you guys get one of your own, though.”
He also comes into the upcoming gridiron campaign knowing it could be his last shot at an elusive third ring.
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Going into his fifth and final year under the state’s Teacher & Employe Retention Incentive (TERI) program, Thompson’s hunger to reach the top one last time is matched only by the team’s appetite to get him there.
A longtime member of Class A, the Bears moved up a division last year with the S.C. High School League’s decision to move to five classes. Such didn’t prove much of a problem, however, with the squad finishing with a 9-4 record, a share of the Region 7-2A title and a pair of playoff wins.
A number of key cogs from that team return, giving Carvers Bay quite the head start in its pursuit of another deep playoff run. Nevertheless, Thompson believes this go-around will be far more difficult than the last.
“Honestly, last year I think we snuck up on a lot of people,” he said. “We’re pretty decent right now, and that’s part of why the summer is so important to us – it helps us get everything in place, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. Our region is pretty good year in and year out … there won’t be any catching teams by surprise this year.”
Just because he won’t be pulling rabbits out of a hat does not mean there isn’t any magic left in Thompson’s trick bag.
With a team that averaged nearly 26 points per game a season ago, the longtime Carvers Bay head man is of the belief his team could do more on the offensive side of the ball.
Honestly, last year I think we snuck up on a lot of people. ... There won’t be any catching teams by surprise this year.
Carvers Bays football Nate Thompson
Playing at quarterback last year, Janaz Sumpter proved to be quite the weapon. He led the Bears in passing (590) and rushing (698) yards, scoring 19 touchdowns in the process.
With the emergence of Nathan White at the quarterback position, Sumpter could see time in the backfield or split out at wide receiver.
The team’s top receivers from a season ago return, as the diminutive Tyrik Reed and 6-foot-3 wideout Dijon Goss look to give the Carvers Bay offense a boost.
For all of the squad’s athleticism, Thompson said his team has a little work to do up front.
“We have to find some people,” he said. “The main thing is that we have to get some depth. We still need two good ones up front.”
The situation may be more dire in the defensive trenches.
Last season, defensive end Byron Young had 76 tackles – 54 of which came on a solo basis. He also had 12 sacks, three forced fumbles, two blocked punts, an interception and a touchdown. Thompson said it is going to take a team effort to match that type of production.
“In losing Byron, we lost a good one,” the Carvers Bay coach said. “We’re talking about a young man that could come off the edge and create havoc. I don’t know if we have that type of firepower this year. We’ll certainly miss it.”
Among those looking to carry their share of the load include Emanuel Tatum and Jaquan Reed, both part of a defense that yielded 14 points a game last season.
D’Quarius Pressley and Quevon Dickerson are back to contribute at the linebacker spot for the Bears, while Sumpter and Reed look to secure the defensive backfield.
“We have guys to replace back there, but there are a few who can step up and fill those roles,” Thompson said. “Really, our goal is to work hard and build depth, especially with the tough non-region schedule we have and our brutal conference.
“But the main thing is just work on what we do and trust the process. If we’re able to do that, we will be just fine.”
Carvers Bay Bears
Coach: Nate Thompson (155-77 career, 144-66 in 17 years at Carvers Bay)
2016 record: 9-4, 5-1 Region VII-2A (lost to Barnwell in Lower State 2A semifinal round)
Key players: D’Quarius Pressley (Sr., FB/DL), Emanuel Tatum (Sr., OL/DL), Janaz Sumpter (Jr., QB/DB)
The word: With a large share of their core back following a season in which it shared the Region VII-2A title and won a pair of playoff games, optimism reigns that the Bears can push further in 2017. Much of that starts with quarterback Janaz Sumpter, who led the team in rushing and passing a season ago. Having a healthy Tyrek Reed and Dijon Goss, along with the return of Toronto King – a transfer back to the school after playing last year at Myrtle Beach – will certainly help matters on offense. Despite needing to fill some holes, expect the same tough, rugged Bears defense of old. Emanuel Tatum will be tasked with getting after the passer, particularly with standout defensive end Byron Young gone. D’Quarius Pressley and Sumpter will lead Carvers Bay’s back seven.