The celebration and extended season courtesy of Aynor’s playoff win last fall may be long gone.
The mentality the Blue Jackets have after putting up the school’s first postseason victory in two decades is still fresh.
“It gives us a little bit of a taste of what it is to play football when others aren’t – instead of looking at the [highlight shows] on television on Friday night,” Aynor running back Hunter Windham said.
It was nothing short of amazing for a team that hasn’t had much success. The Blue Jackets haven’t had a winning season since 2001.
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They were 0-5 in Region VIII-AA last season and only made the playoffs courtesy of a newly created system that put every team in the class in the postseason.
However, that one win could now jump-start a complete turnaround. Aynor suffered very few personnel losses from last year and will return 17 starters on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Combine that with a knowledge of a run-oriented playbook and five non-region games against Class A opponents, and just maybe there is a winning season on the horizon.
“They’re not crazy. They see five A teams to open up with,” coach Jody Jenerette said. “We’ve got a group right now that wants to be pretty darn good. It can be a double-edged sword if you make it, but this group is going to grind and find a way to be pretty darn good.”
As many as 16 seniors will be on the team when the season opens Aug. 17 at Lake View. Windham may be the key to start out with, Jenerette said.
The tailback ran for 747 yards and seven scores last season. Fellow running back Damion Riggins (447 yards, four touchdowns) had his best game of the year in the team’s second-round loss at Silver Bluff when he ran for 111 yards.
Those two and Ronique Smith will be key, especially given the losses of 1,000-yard rusher Devante Kinlaw (graduation) and Marquis Gregg (transfer to Wilson). Those three returning backs also will have three returning starting linemen to run behind, too.
And even though Jenerette said Aynor wants to throw the ball more – this is a team that completed only 13 passes all season – that doesn’t mean much.
“It’s not going to be any mystery about what we’re going to do,” Windham said.
Between the experience, the schedule and the large senior class, maybe all that running can amount to a winning season.
Regardless, Aynor knows it can have success when it matters just a hair more. It’s an approach that has added a boost throughout the offseason.
“I think the Garrett win – I’m not going to say we turned a corner in any way – but the kids love football a lot more than they have in the past. I can tell you that,” Jenerette said. “I sensed it the day the season got over. I haven’t had to scream as much. I haven’t had to yell as much. I haven’t had to beg as much.”