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Ready or not, here it comes

Demons host Dogs in MCCU Kickoff Classic

Posted: August 20, 2014 3:36 p.m.
Updated: August 22, 2014 5:00 a.m.
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DARIUS SMITH ... CHS cornerback

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As if this pre-season has not been a rush job already for interim Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Dave Thomas, he had one week less than normal to work with in preparing the Demons for tonight’s Week Zero game with Camden in the Mid-Carolina Credit Union Kickoff Classic.
The meeting between the two rivals was moved up from week four, which had recently become the landing spot for a contest which has bounced from the first game to the last game to this year being one of the first games to be played in the state and, for that matter, the country.
Rest assured, said Thomas who took over the Demon reins in July, this is hardly the optimal way to begin a transitional season.
“It puts restraints on us in trying to install an offense and getting the defense and special teams ready, all at the same time, for a Week Zero game,” Thomas said before his first game as a head coach after 19 years as an assistant, including one at L-E.
“If I could have planned it, we wouldn’t have a Week Zero game. Obviously coming in during July, you can’t adjust the schedule at that point.”
Moving the game to its earliest playing date ever was a mutual decision made between retired L-E head coach Scott Jones and Camden boss Jimmy Neal. Their thinking on the move was two-fold: First, the game would create excitement throughout the off-season and, as far as coaches are concerned, it got the season’s biggest distraction --- for both sides --- out of the way early.
“When Coach (Scott) Jones and I first started talking about this,” Neal explained, “we talked about the advantages for both teams with it being your rival, there would be good focus on it. It’s also a good thing to get it over with and you’re not trying to get ready for West Florence and your kids are talking about Lugoff-Elgin. We thought this was the best way to do it.
“It’s been played before in the first week of the year.”
Never before, though, has either side been in a state of flux as are the Demons. Jones unexpectedly retired to take a job at Ben Lippen Christian School in Columbia on July 9. Two days later, the coaching post was offered to Thomas, who was L-E’s defensive coordinator in 2013.
While having been around this rivalry one time, Thomas knows how emotions can get the best of young men in the days leading up to the contest from his years working at Fort Mill and Northwestern high schools. Knowing both sides will come out charged up, Thomas has chosen to temper, rather than fan the flames in practice this week.
“Actually, because I’ve been through this before, I’ve taken a different path. I haven’t really played it up too much because, I know, that once Friday gets here, the nerves and the excitement will be there,” he said of coaching in a rivalry contest.
“We haven’t talked much about this other than it being another game this week … the kids know how it works and I know they’re anticipating this game. I know the pressure of performing well will be there for them so I haven’t added anything to it.”
As opposed to the previous four seasons, Camden comes into the L-E clash without the benefit of having any games under its belt. When the game was played in week four, the Bulldogs had already faced three opponents and had an open week to watch the Demons in person and put a game plan together. That is not a luxury this time around.
Making matters worse is that L-E has switched to a flexbone offensive scheme which renders last season’s game films virtually useless. The Demons seem to have taken to the new set as evidenced by a strong offensive showing in last week’s 35-14 loss to A.C. Flora in the Camden Shrine Club Football Jamboree. Seeing L-E in person that night and having traded film from just one scrimmage, Neal said, has the Bulldog coaching staff on edge.
Senior quarterback Keyshsawn Martin guided a balanced L-E attack. He found 6-foot-6 wide receiver Elliott Campbell on a fade route for a touchdown on which the sophomore made a one-handed grab. On the ground, the Demons have a stable of backs in senior Gunnar Catoe, junior Aldreacio Wells and sophomores Jermaine Jenkins, Rahmel Burton who can break loose and pick up yardage in a hurry, if given the slightest bit of a seam.
Making sure the alleys are clogged and limiting the damage on the ground will the job of the Camden defense.
“It’s assignment football,” Neal said of defending the flexbone. “You just can’t cut your defense loose and have them get upfield and attack. You have to calm it down. I know the people who run the flexbone don’t think it can be stopped or, that you can defend it. Hopefully, we’ll have an idea as to how to defend it.
“One of their scrimmages was cancelled and we were supposed to trade film from it so, you don’t really know what we’re going to see. How much of their offense do they have in? And, how well do they run it? They looked really good in the jamboree. All we’re trying to do is play our positions and, hopefully, swarm to the ball.”
Thomas said Camden will not get out of its 4-3 defensive set in order to play the flexbone. He said that alignment is the one which works best in making sure all angles and holes are covered. Still, he liked what he saw from his offense last Friday night in the jamboree.
“If you’re not used to the option,” he said of preparing to defend the flexbone, “it makes you spend time on responsibility and if you don’t cover it, we’re going to pick up six yards. That’s what we’re thinking and that’s what we’ve tried to engrain in our kids’ heads. Last Friday night against Flora, we had a few plays that popped for big runs and, we threw the ball pretty well.
“As far as being efficient, five yards ... six yards a clip is what we want.”
With Camden’s running the same offense as it did a season ago, Thomas said he and his defensive coaches have a good idea as to what the visitors like to do. He said his defensive unit must defend a well-balanced Bulldog attack.
“They’re very similar to what they were last year,” he said. “But they have some good kids like their tight end (Chase Truesdale) and wide out (D.J. Wilson) who they like to get the ball to. Their running back (Kendrice Slater) is pretty good and their quarterback (Jaylen Nelson and/or Devin Beckley) is efficient. We have a tough task ahead of us.”
Given Camden’s size at the receiver positions with the 6-foot-6 Truesdale and the 6-foot-4 Wilson being joined by six-foot junior Taylor Kelly, Thomas said the Bulldogs will have a decided advantage in height over the players in the Demon secondary. He hopes he does not see a repeat of what took place at Zemp Stadium a week ago.
“One of my main concerns, and I went through this last year,” Thomas said, “is people throwing it over our head on defense. We had that happen two times the other night against A.C. Flora which, to their credit, had a good quarterback and an excellent receiver. They will give teams fits when they play them but our kids have to understand what we’re doing in order to prevent that type of stuff happening to us.”
Both coaches said that with a season opener, they are concerned with what they may have left out or, may have not gone over in the pre-season. The one common theme was special teams which, at this time of the season, can play a deciding role in which teams wins or, loses, the game.
Another factor tonight will be the heat with temperatures expected to still be hovering in the 90s at kickoff. How each team acclimates to the conditions and which players handle things best could play a role in the outcome of this pairing.
“I think the heat is going to be a factor,” Neal said. “I don’t think any coach has the exact formula about how much running you need to do and how to get ready and when do you cut back in practice. Heat is heat. Both sides are going to be emotional, will play hard and play fast and they are going to get tired. We have to get ready to call a time out or, to sub people in.”
For all the differences in this game, the one common ground shared by Neal and Thomas is that they will be glad when this contest finally kicks off and, finishes.
“I think after we get this first one over with I think a lot of that anxiety will go away for myself and the other coaches,” Thomas said with a smile. “I’ll be glad when 7:30 gets here Friday night.”
Neal said regardless of the outcome, he hopes his team will not suffer an emotional letdown in preparing for West Florence next week coming off a victory. If the Dogs lose, he said they cannot let one loss turn into two defeats for a team which still has their mind on that first outing heading into the second game of the year.
 “We’ll be glad to get this thing going,” he said. “I was talking with Coach Ammons (retired Camden High head coach Billy) the other day about this game and we both agreed that you’re more concerned about the next game because your guys have put so much into this game.”

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