ROWLAND — For the new coaching staff at South Robeson High School, there is no resting on the laurels of the 8-6 season the team had a year ago.
Despite running all the way to the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs, there are still plenty of things to work on.
“Playing mistake free football,” said offensive line coach Doug Taylor. “I looked at a bunch of film last year and I saw a bunch of mistakes. If you make a mistake, go full speed. You might miss a block, but just hustle, it’s all we need to do.”
New head coach Clay Jernigan is taking over a program that hasn’t had a consistently winning program since Mike Brill was in charge, a job that friends warned him was one of the worst schools to coach at in the county.
The team only has 16 returning players from last year’s varsity squad and after spending all summer in the weight room working on conditioning, Jernigan is concerned that the team is a little behind.
“We are so far behind right now because of having to be in the weight room that we don’t have time to take off at all,” he said.
Jernigan said the way the kids look at commitment to the team is something that really will have to change.
“I don’t care about what happened last year and all that,” he said. “They have to learn me and we are going to play the ones that come to practice and the ones that are committed, and that’s just the way I am. It’s the only way I know to get the kids out and turn a program around.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t kids that are where they need to be. Jernigan and his staff have been impressed with a good core of seniors that have taken a leadership role. One in particular is returning quarterback Kalvis Chavis.
“He has really come into his own, and the reason he has come on his own is he’s stepped up and been vocal in getting these kids out here and involved,” Jernigan said. “Corbin Hunt’s another one who has been very vocal.
“We just need the younger kids to jump in and follow their steps. That right now is the hard part, getting the young ones to follow their steps.”
The message of being a leader is one that Chavis himself has taken seriously.
“It’s all about heart,” Chavis said. “They see you doing something, they are going to do it too. If you give everything you have, they are going to give everything they have.”
It isn’t easy trying to change a culture though, and Jernigan says now that official practices have begun, some of the commitment is wearing off.
“Basically, the thing he is bringing back is going back to the old South Robeson days when Vonta Leach and everybody played,” Taylor said. “We are going to bring back that excitement to the community. We want to bring excitement back to the kids. If we get them excited, there’s no telling where we can go.”
Of course, dedication and work aren’t all it takes to get wins on the field, and Jernigan understands this. But that doesn’t mean there will be a lot of flair coming from South Robeson this season.
“We are going to run first to set up the pass,” Jernigan said. “We’re not going to be fancy. We are just going to play regular football and come right at you and if you stop us then you stop us. My mentality is to hit you right in the mouth and keep driving.”
Defensively, the same approach will be taken.
“We are going to be aggressive,” Jernigan said. “We don’t try to scheme anybody. We will just do what we are supposed to do and let the rest of it take care of itself.”
The hard work is all leading up to the first game of the season, and to Jernigan, than isn’t much else on his mind.
“The first goal is to win the first (game),” he said. “I had somebody the other day ask me ‘When do you guys play South Columbus? When do you play Whiteville?’ and I told them I don’t know. I said the only one I know we play is West Bladen and that’s the first game.”