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Dogs ready to put the recent past behind them

Posted: August 20, 2013 3:39 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Redemption, thy name is the 2013 edition of the Camden Bulldogs’ football team.
Following a second consecutive 2-8 season --- which was later adjusted to 3-7 following a loss to Lower Richland being reversed due to playing an ineligible player ---, the Bulldogs worked overtime in the off-season in the hope of righting a pair of wrongs.
Now in the 16th season at the helm of his high school alma mater, CHS head coach Jimmy Neal makes no bones about the past two seasons not being a whole lot of fun. His players and coaching staff knew that as well and Neal said he has seen a difference in the weight room and on the practice field. Now, all parties are anxiously awaiting the results which kick off when Cheraw comes to town for Friday’s season opener at historic Zemp Stadium.
“We’ve never had a team which has put as much time as this one has put into it at Camden,” said Neal, who has a 115-64 career record on the Bulldog sidelines. “They started in November and went through the off-season and then, this summer. The core of this team was here consistently and made some strides and a lot of strength gains. They’ve committed themselves to being the very best team that they can be.”
Just who are these Bulldogs and what will be their calling card for this fall? That, Neal admitted, is a good question. In Neal’s tenure, his Camden teams have been known for being able to put points on the board and having a hard-hitting defense which prevents the opposition from doing the same.
With many new faces in tow, especially on defense, this version of the Dogs has spent the off-season and the pre-season trying to get a feel for their new surroundings. One thing which their head coach likes about this squad is their eagerness to get better on a daily basis.
“We’re still searching for an identity but, right now, we’re a team that’s trying to do what the coaches are asking them to do,” Neal said. “Obviously, it’s a team which is a year older; we had very few seniors last year and a lot of these guys played extensively last year.
“Who are we, though? I don’t know who if we know who we are, yet. We don’t know what we do best, yet. We are pleased with the direction of the team and the effort that they’re putting into it.”
One thing which Camden has tried to become in the spring and into pre-season drills has been a more physical football team. Contact was not a foreign word as the Bulldog staff wants to be the aggressors in their games this fall.
“I thought we became a more physical football team, which is what we were looking for. We got more aggressive,” Neal said of the tone of his team’s practice sessions.

Defense-wise, 2012 was a nightmare scenario for the Dogs, which surrendered a school-record 416 points in 10 games. To the surprise of no one, that side of the football received the most attention in spring practice and throughout the pre-season.
“With all the points we gave up last year on defense,” Neal said of areas which were zeroed in on the coaching staff, “we had to stress that area. There was a lot of work and effort put on that side of the ball by the coaches and a lot of good things are happening there. We feel good about them; there are a lot of good things going on there.”
With eight new starters, Camden will continue to line up in the 3-4 scheme, but has added a wrinkle or two. The Bulldogs will jump into a 4-3 set, on occasion. The change to the four-man front has been subtle enough so that the players will not be stressed mentally, causing them to lose their responsibilities and/or forget their assignments.
Neal said he has seen a marked difference in the speed and the approach of the defense.
“It was not very pretty last year, a lot of times … they played hard last year,” he said. “To this point, they’re playing extremely hard. We’re trying to get our best football players on the field, which we’ve always tried to do.”
Getting those players on the field has led to the coaching staff shifting players from one side of the football to the other or, in some instances on defense, making a position change.
Senior Jace Stukes (6-0, 217), a starter at linebacker in each of the past two years, has been moved to a starting defensive end. Across the way will be junior Welton Cauthen (6-4, 192), who played well in his two starts at the end of last season.
In between the ends, the Dogs have senior Delton Bradford (6-4, 307), who flourished at defensive tackle after having been moved over from the offensive line midway through the 2012 campaign. Junior Tyrik Jones (6-2, 230) will move into a tackle in the 4-3 formation. Look for players such as sophomores Nick Jenkins 96-1, 298), Juwan Harmon (6-0, 256), Tyrone Kelly (6-3, 210) and seniors Kelton Young (5-7, 187) and Jamonte Wright (5-8, 180) to see action on the line.
“We really think the defensive front is pretty deep. There will be a lot of substituting with the ones and twos there,” Neal said. “Those guys are going to give us some quality minutes. We’re excited about them.”
The linebacking corps has been completely rebuilt starting in the middle with junior Brandon McCaskill (5-9, 212), who will be flanked by juniors Tyrel Smith (6-2, 180) and Omar Mingo (6-0, 178). McCaskill had one start last season while the rangy Smith was a player who started out as a defensive end before being moved to add depth at linebacker, only to win a starting position. Mingo is one of the team’s most athletic players.
Working their way into the mix for playing time behind that trio are sophomores Ben Hayes (6-0, 180) and Parker Rankin (6-1, 195).
The secondary has also undergone a bit of facelift. Seniors Jordan Sumpter (5-11, 160) and DeMarius Alexander (5-9, 185) return to man the corners as does junior Nelson Semple (6-0, 155) at one safety. The newcomer to the unit is senior Josh Sumpter (5-11, 160), who did not play a year ago and who is expected to line up at the other safety. One player sure to get playing time at corner is junior Darius “Pooh” Smith (5-8, 200), who is coming off shoulder surgery which sidelined him for the entire 2013 baseball season and, all of the football off-season. As a sophomore, his late-game interception sealed a 21-20 win over Lakewood
“I think we have guys who will swarm to the ball and will do some good things,” Neal said of his defense.

With graduated senior Josh Council calling the signals, the Dogs averaged 28 points per game in the first seven games of the 2012 season before he was lost to injuries sustained in a car wreck. His backup, Denzel Martin (6-0, 150), saw his junior campaign come to an end with a knee injury in week three. That led to then-sophomore Ross Hough (5-10, 175) being inserted under center in week nine, but he missed the final game of the year due to a concussion.
During the off-season, Hough underwent Tommy John surgery on his left (throwing) arm and missed all of spring practice. He has since seen time at wide receiver while possibly seeing time in the defensive secondary. Meanwhile, Martin healed in time to play basketball in the winter while receiving a majority of the snaps in practice.
Martin started three games as a sophomore. He impressed Neal then and he did so, again, in the spring and pre-season as he heads into the year as the Dogs’ starting signal-caller, directing an uptempo, no-huddle attack.
“Denzel has three or four starts but a lot of this is still new to him,” Neal said of Martin. “He’s very conscientious and smart guy who works very hard and who understands the game. He can make all the throws and does what we ask him to do, he just needs confidence.
“Early in the pre-season, it’s been tough with three of our offensive linemen being out for a few days. Denzel has hung in there and has done some good stuff. He’s a competitor and he’ll come through for us. He’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Neal would like to get Hough some snaps at quarterback, but the junior is not fully comfortable throwing the ball, yet. “We’d still like to see him get under center for the depth plus, he’s a winner,” Neal said of the left-hander. “Right now, I don’t think he’s very comfortable throwing the ball around. He’s going to be valuable as a wide receiver for us, also.”
Backing up Martin will be sophomore Jaylen Nelson (5-9, 174) and freshman Devin Beckley (6-0, 170), who had a strong showing in pre-season camp.
The offensive line returns senior starters Charlie Nash (6-5, 215) and Mauric James (6-3, 275) at left tackle and left guard, respectively, along with classmate Jacob Kersey (6-0, 275) , who has been moved from center to right guard. Sophomore tackle Robert Warnock (6-4, 282) and center Tim King (5-7, 240), both of whom saw action last year, gives line coach Emet Reyes a good base from which to start.
Juniors Marquis Engram (5-9, 205) and Xavier White (5-11, 195) along with freshman DeShawn Sumpter (6-0, 275) will see time at guard with senior Omar James (5-6, 208) who, like White, is making the switch from defense to offense, will spell the tackles.
The return of senior receivers Dontrell Miller (5-9, 147), Alexx Cooke (5-8, 150) and George Randolph (5-8, 140), along with 6-foot-6, 210-pound junior tight end/wide out Chase Truesdale and his 6-foot-4, 192-pound classmate D.J. Wilson gives the Dogs plenty of options in the passing game. The latter pair, Neal said, are players who can go up in the air and come down with passes thrown over the heads of smaller defenders.
Miller is coming off a 33-catch season in which he had 413 receiving yards with three touchdowns. He also had 21 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown. Cooke had 15 grabs for 146 yards and two touchdowns while Truesdale and Wilson had 14 and five catches as sophomores for 160 and 43 yards, respectively.
“I think we have some home run guys,” Neal said of his big-play threats in Miller, Cooke and Randolph. “Somehow, some way, we have to get them the ball. And, Chase and D.J. are a mismatch for most teams. We just have to get the ball to those guys we have who can run with it.”
When it comes to running the football, the Dogs return senior Brandon Hampton (5-9, 175) who led the team with 473 yards rushing last year while scoring three times. Junior Kendrice Slater (5-9, 210) was a short-yardage specialist in 2012, carrying 52 times for 169 yards with a team-best nine trips into the end zone. The two are called backs 1A and 1B by Neal.
Looking for playing time behind the two most-established backs in the stable will be freshman S.J. Lucas (5-6, 170), sophomore Jamar Byrd (5-9, 211) and senior Jaiy’lin Mials (5-7, 150).
Nash returns to handle the punting chores after averaging better than 32 yards per punt last year while, for what is believed to be a first in the 117-year history of the CHS football program, a female will suit up for the Bulldogs. Senior Jordan Woody, an all-conference goalkeeper for Stephen Sutusky’s Lady Bulldogs soccer team, will handle the PATs and, short field goal tries. Semple will handle kickoffs and longer field goal attempts.
As opposed to last year at this time, the Camden defense is ahead of the offense which is still working out the kinks with a new signal-caller.
“That was what was so odd last year; the offense was ahead of the defense and then, we found out why,” Neal said of the state of the two units. “Right now, you would say the defense is ahead of the offense, which most defenses are at this time of the year. But the offense is making strides. They’re getting close to becoming a unit.”
The same can be said about the Bulldogs, as a whole. They are a team made up of what Neal called a group of “pleasers”, who are doing their best to do what the coaches ask of them each day. “This whole team cares about one another and cares about the team,” he said. “Their goal is to be the best they can be.”
That means getting back to Camden High football and the standards which have come to be expected surrounding the program. And, Neal pointed out, just because the Dogs have had their share of struggles recently, things have not changed as to the goals and expectations this time around.
“The goals are, pretty much, the same as they have always been,” he said. “We want to have a winning season, win our region, make the playoffs and play for a championship. That’s what we’ve always expected. I know we’ve had a couple rough years here, but we’re not changing our expectations.”

New pass policy for Camden home games: Camden High School officials would like to remind fans entering Zemp Stadium for all home football games this season about the procedure and the use of passes in order to gain entry into the contest(s):
*Anyone using a South Carolina High School League, Kershaw County School District and/or KCSD Golden Circle pass to gain admission into the stadium must use the pass gate located behind the home side grandstand, beneath the press box. Guests need to display their personal identification at the gate and will be asked to sign in before entering the stadium.
* All Kershaw County School District passes must have the district seal embossed in a corner of the card. And, a KCSD pass allows only the person whose name is on the pass free entry into the stadium.

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