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Jones, Demons are putting pieces back in place

Young L-E squad preparing to win, again

Posted: August 27, 2013 2:15 p.m.
Updated: August 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

L-E SENIOR EMMONTI PAYNE used a strong off-season and per-season to lock down a starting spot at outside linebacker for the Demons.

It was not too long ago that Lugoff-Elgin grabbed the attention of 4A football programs when, in 2010, the Demons won the Region 6-4A crown in their first year competing at the state’s top level.
Scott Jones and company have spent the past two seasons working their way to try and get back to those heights and return to the post-season. Following their stunning 4A debut, the road has gotten rocky for the Demons.
But with a roster littered with underclassmen, the L-E program looks to be getting back on track after consecutive seasons in which a laundry list of injuries decimated the roster, forcing the team’s coaching staff to make personnel changes, literally, on the fly.
Winning a league title the first time out was both a blessing and a curse said Jones, who enters his 12th season at the helm as the school’s winningest football coach.
“I think we got real spoiled when we won the region our first year in 4A,” Jones said. “I think everybody thought it was going to be easy … not just players, but the whole community. People thought, ‘Hey, we’re just going to roll in here and be good.’
“We’ve had to learn a hard lesson, which I predicted would happen; I knew it would be tough. We’ve had to go through a lot of things since then.”
Since entering the Midlands-based Region 4-4A in 2012, the Demons have seen how those programs have been built with upperclassmen. Oftentimes, schools played juniors on the junior varsity team in order to give them more playing time and seasoning before making their mark on varsity. For players who were used to playing on the varsity squad as juniors, some Demon players had to get accustomed to the new reality which came with playing against the state’s big boys.
“When we went to 4A,” Jones said of the changes which some of his players were asked to make, “we had mass mutiny here. We had kids who thought it was an embarrassment to play jayvee football as a junior. Now, our kids have bought into that and know there is no dishonor in playing junior varsity ball as a junior. There are a lot of good teams in Columbia and, throughout the state, who have juniors who are not starters on the varsity, playing on Thursday night.
“That’s one of the biggest hurdles that we had to overcome here in trying to change that culture.”
From the get-go, Jones knew playing in 4A would hardly be a cake walk for his program which has hit some tough sledding since winning the Pee Dee-centric region three years ago. Coming off a winless 2012 campaign though, all signs point toward the Demons seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
With just 14 seniors on a roster which includes 19 sophomores and seven freshmen, Jones said youth will be served in the West Wateree this season and for the next two to three autumns to come. Since many of those players were not part of last season’s squad, the Demons are working with a clean slate this time around.
“I’m not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings,” he said of the past few years at L-E, “but we’ve had a lot of drama. Right now, we’re drama-free. Guys have bought into the fact that it’s all about hard work and effort; if you practice hard and you work hard, good things are going to happen to you. We feel like that’s happening here.
“Obviously, in the pre-season, we’re still making mistakes which you’re trying to correct. But I feel so much better about our team in all phases of the game; from the kicking game to offense and defense. I’m excited about these guys. The truth of the matter is, we have a young team. We feel we have a good nucleus with the ninth and 10th grade guys we have coming up; they are some really good guys. We’re excited about the next couple years of football here.”
The Demons are learning quickly, too, Jones said. In last Friday night’s Mid Carolina Credit Union Kickoff Classic, L-E went up against a no-huddle, fast-tempo offense in Westwood and more than held its own in a 7-6 loss. The Demons also gave a strong account of themselves in a scrimmage with defending AAA state champion Hartsville, which returns 10 starters to a defense which is lightning-quick.
The play in the pre-season this year, Jones said, is in stark contast from a year ago when the Demons struggled in adjusting to the speed of the opposition and the game itself. Jones said he expects his team to grow from the pre-season and improve by week beginning with Friday’s regular season opener against visiting Fort Mill.
“Our goal is to get better each week and take things one week at a time,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some confidence, win a few games and get on a roll.”
The off-season was also good to the Demons with coaches Garrett Knight and Tim Davis spending countless hours in the weight room with the players. And, more Demons made their summer workout goals than any group in Jones’ tenure. 
“I couldn’t be happier with the way these guys have worked up to this point. These guys have really worked hard to prepare for the season,” he said.“The guys have really bought into what we’re doing. Coach Knight and Coach Davis have done a great job in the weight room in getting our guys prepared and conditioned for our season.”
The summer workouts paved the way to a new beginning at L-E. And, aside from one slip-up during a practice on a hot afternoon when the 2012 campaign was brought up, Jones said nary a word has been said about last year. From that point on, he noted, there has been no looking back.
“I’ve made a promise to those kids that we will not mention the past anymore and we will look to the future,” Jones said. “They’ve bought into that; they all know what happened and the ins and outs and the secrets of why we were like we were before. There are a lot of reasons for that and, I’ll take the blame for that, too. Everybody played a role in that.”

For a team which averaged just less than 18 points per game a year ago, the Demons return two players who are expected to give that number a boost.
In senior Shon Belton (6-0, 185) and speedy junior Daniel Quattlebaum (5-10, 170), L-E has playmakers on offense with each seeing time in the backfield as well as at wide receiver. In Belton’s case, the two-year starting quarterback could return to that position, on occasion.
“Shon Belton is the most unselfish player on our team,” Jones said of a player who ran for 617 yards and nine touchdowns while throwing for 460 more and a trio of touchdowns. “He came in here after last season and said, ‘If you need to move me, move me.’
“I thought that was a very unselfish move on his part.”
Quattlebaum, who returned the opening kickoff of last year’s game with Camden for a 79-yard touchdown, had just four carries for 16 yards as a sophomore while grabbing 10 passes for 70 yards. This season, the team’s fastest player, like Belton, will used in a variety of ways.
“We have two talented guys who need to have the ball in their hands as much as possible,” Jones said of the pair.
Look for freshman Jermaine Jenkins (5-7, 150) and sophomore Aldreacio Wells (5-10, 170) to see more time in the backfield as they get adjusted to the varsity game.
Under center, the Demons had penciled in senior Hunter McManus after spring practice, but a shoulder injury sustained in the summer ended his football-playing days. That opened the door for junior Keyshawn Martin (6-0, 175), who did not take a varsity snap as a sophomore. He will direct what will be a run-first offense.
“We’ve revamped our offense a little bit and are doing some things differently,” Jones said. “We feel like we have some good skill people who can make things happen for us.
“We’re kind of a flexbone/Wing-T offense and, we’ll get in the shotgun every now and then, but that (the shotgun set) is not what we’re doing. The truth of the matter is that we’re a running football team and we have some backs who can take it to the house at any time; if they get loose … we’ve already seen that happen.”
Senior Kevin Fields (5-7, 150) returns at wide receiver after having caught 11 passes for 115 yards as a junior. He will be joined there by Quattlebaum and Belton.
Senior Chase Hunter (5-11, 190) and junior Dakota Jones (5-9, 190) have been getting the majority of reps at tight end while freshman Elliott Campbell (6-5, 200) and sophomore McKenzie Brown (6-1, 180) will see action on both the varsity and junior varsity and are building blocks for the future.
Along the interior, junior Daquan Pollard (6-2, 315) will man the left tackle post after moving up from the jayvees. A spirited battle between sophomore Devin Reeder (6-0, 305) and sophomore Spencer Elliott (6-3, 240) is taking place for the starting job at left guard. Charles McCray, a 5-8, 220-pound junior, will handle the snapping chores.
A pair of returning starters head up the right side of the line. Junior Evan O’Brian (5-11, 240) is back at right guard while classmate Will Jones (6-4, 290) makes the switch from center to right tackle. Figuring into the mix for playing time on the line will be freshman tackle Shamar James (6-0, 300).
“Offensively,” Jones said, “we’re trying to run the football and throw the play-action pass. That’s our identity … that’s what we’re going to do behind those (the offensive line) guys.”

While L-E struggled to put up points last fall, things were equally tough when it came to stopping opponents as the Demons allowed better than 38 points per contest in 11 games. Jones and company hope the hiring of new defensive coordinator Dave Thomas, who comes following a stint at Fort Mill, will help change things on that side of the ball. Already, in scrimmages, the defense has made great strides.
“Tackling, number one,” Jones said with a smirk when asked what the chief concern was on the defensive side of the football coming into the season. “We couldn’t stop my mother last year.
“The game has changed and those guys (offensive skill players) are out there in space. You see it at the pro level and at the collegiate level where tackling is now at a premium. We’re trying to find guys who can go out there and make tackles in space. That has been our focus, more than anything, on defense.”
The Demons will be smaller and quicker on defense, using more blitzing and stunting than in the past while switching between a 3-4 and a 4-3 look. “But we’ll be under control,” Jones said of a unit which will rely on zone schemes in the secondary rather than man-to-man coverage.
The interior front has been completely rebuilt starting with junior nose tackle DeMonte Weston (5-9, 250). He will be flanked by junior Michael Dinkins (5-11, 190) and classmate Damaan Jenkins (5-10, 235). Dinkins had four tackles behind the line of scrimmage among his 12 stops a season ago. Alex Smith, a 5-9, 170-pound transfer from Westwood, will also play along the line as will senior Dalton Tucker (6-2, 190).
The strong suite of the defense is at linebacker where experience abounds.
Senior Illichris Gordon (5-10, 205) rang up a team-best 76 tackles last year including nine for loss of yardage. He will be joined on the inside by sophomore Malek Lyles (5-10, 175). On the outside are seniors Emmonti Payne (5-11, 200) and Gunnar Branham (6-0, 190). Branham was second on the team with 44 stops as a junior while Payne had four tackles.
Tyrek Kirkland, a 5-10, 180-pound junior, has locked down the safety slot along with sophomore Deontae Hudson (5-7, 150). Manning the corners will be sophomores Derrick Lewis (5-9, 160) and Gunnar Catoe (5-5, 175).
A strength of Demon squads in the past has been having solid specialists and, this season is no different with sophomore Andrew Place (5-11, 155) and senior Josh Bradley (5-9, 160) engaged in a battle to see which player will handle the kicking chores.
While any coach would love to have a team packed with proven senior leaders, Jones said there was little he could do about having young and eager underclassmen who answered the bell and were ready to stake their claim to an open starting spot. The Demon boss was impressed with the talent, aggressiveness and the sense of urgency displayed by his underclassmen in spring practice and then, again, when the team reported for pre-season drills.
If he had his druthers, Jones would love to give the young guys time to get acclimated to varsity competition. But he and his staff want to put the best 22 players on the field, regardless of their class.
“We had a lot of jobs open this year,” he said. “We had a lot of 10th graders who we wanted to play as jayvee players, but they did real well over the summer and some of those guys won some spots. We’re real excited about that. We’ve moved some people around.”
With an abundance of youth and an unforgiving schedule staring them in the face, Jones said his team can ill afford to lose focus or, worry about what has happened in the recent past. This is a squad, he said, which is looking to get the Demons back to playing winning football.
“We’ve discussed that all we can do is move forward,” he said of the direction of the program. “We all want to change our identity. We’re trying to compete and the biggest thing is for us to compete against the level of teams that we play. We’re playing with the big boys, now.”


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