ROWLAND — Effort is something that South Robeson football coach Clay Jernigan knows his team brings to the table going into the 2016 season.
The Mustangs hold the longest active streak in Robeson County for consecutive state playoff appearances and will feature one of Robeson County’s top athletes leading the offense at quarterback after making the move from running back. All of these things bring excitement for South Robeson’s third-year coach.
“I’ve got a positive outlook from the way things are going,” Jernigan said. “I cannot complain about their effort out on the field.”
After a 2-10 record last season that included a first-round appearance in the NCHSAA 1AA state playoffs, the Mustangs are leaning on the leadership of not only the small senior class, but any players that are stepping up throughout the summer and preseason practices.
“They don’t consider senior, junior, freshman or sophomore,” Jernigan said about leadership. “If one boy is running hard, they see that and want to go with him.”
Returning all-county running back turned quarterback Darrius Brown is one player that Jernigan has seen lead as a junior with experience beyond the class listed by his name on the roster.
“With Darrius at quarterback, and he’s started two years, basically in realistic high school football and he’s played varsity two years, as a junior he’s a senior,” Jernigan said.
Now getting the starting nod under center, Brown brings his experience as well as his elusive and quick running style that helped him earn first-team all-conference honors last fall as a sophomore. He was the Mustangs’ leading rusher a year ago.
The offense as a whole will benefit from the move of Brown taking over as quarterback and will be hard to stop with an extra running threat in the backfield, according to Jernigan.
“I think we’re going to be smarter,” he said. “I think with Darrius at quarterback, we’re going to do some things that people haven’t seen me do.
“I’ve looked up and listen to some people talk and add a few things to it to make Darrius a third weapon. We’re going to make them think more than just a handoff and three yards and a cloud of dust.”
Brown’s move to quarterback comes after last year’s starter, 6-foot-3 255-pound sophomore Cameron Worrells, making the move to tight end to provide help blocking for the wing-T offense as well as a big target in passing situation. Worrells joins sophomore receiver Tyreek Baker and backs Jaruias Davis and Tyric Hunt as other weapons to add to the Mustangs’ offensive attack.
“Honestly, I just done think we’re going to have just one person (as a threat),” Jernigan said. “It makes the offense a whole lot better.”
On the other side of the ball, the strength lies with the linebackers starting with senior Emmanuel Thompson who is a vocal leader for the team.
“I think our inside linebackers with Emmanuel Thompson and Kendrick Hunt are stepping up,” Jernigan said. “They’re picking up formations and bringing leadership.”
Brown and Davis will see time in the defensive backfield as well and Jernigan said the defensive front’s size depends on the development of his younger players working up to the season.
“We’re big but we’re young,” Jernigan said.
Confidence is something that Jernigan feels his team needs a boost of and a win in the season opener at home on Friday against West Bladen could do a lot for team morale this season.
“If we can win that first ballgame, our confidence level will jump so high that it will be unreal here,” Jernigan said. “That’s all we’re lacking is confidence.”
Working with a full coaching staff for the first time in his three years with the program, Jernigan said the solidarity of having coaches that are walking the halls with the students and there consistently at practice is a positive boost for the team in regards to learning the game.
“Right know, we are a lot more knowledgeable than we were the last two years,” he said. “The biggest help is we’ve got a full staff at school here. That’s a big difference because the kids can see the coaches everyday at school.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.