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Homecoming comes early for Thomas and Demons

Posted: August 28, 2014 9:10 a.m.
Updated: August 29, 2014 5:00 a.m.
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DEVIN REEDER ... L-E offensive lineman

With the first-game jitters out out of his and his his team’s system, interim Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Dave Thomas can now get onto the business of going home.
The Fort Mill native and 18-year assistant coach at Fort Mill returns to his high school alma mater for the first time wearing enemy colors as he leads the Demons into Bob Jones Stadium to take on the host Yellow Jackets.
While there is one school of thought which goes along the line of having something to prove in going up against family and friends, Thomas said he can be himself more this week that he was a week ago in a 35-14 loss to rival Camden in Week Zero. That, he said, was a big game for he and his team to get under their collective belt.
“There will be a little bit of nerves but definitely not as nervous as last week with the first home game against a rival,” said Thomas. “Going back home, there will be a lot of people who know me and there will be a lot of chitter-chatter before the game with folks who I worked with. As far as the kids being nervous, no: It will be me more than anything.”
Thomas worked at Fort Mill for 18 seasons, the final six of those under Yellow Jacket head coach Ed Susi before the defensive coordinator accepted the same job at Lugoff-Elgin prior to the start of the 2013 campaign.
Knowing the program as well as Susi’s system gave Thomas a bit of comfort in preparing his troops for tonight’s pairing between the 4A programs.
“It’s probably an advantage. I was there for 18 years and know everything about it,” he said of his familiarity with the Yellow Jackets. “They did change the field up and put that new turf down, which looks nice.
“I was with Coach Susi for six years and know the ins and outs of what he’s going to do. The big thing is can our kids get into his mind?”
While the Demons battled to a 14-14 tied in the second quarter with the Bulldogs a week ago, Fort Mill was busy putting away White Knoll by opening last Friday’s Battle on the Bluff by scoring the first 35 points and cruising to a 49-21 victory.
Not surprisingly, several players whom Thomas is very familiar with play key roles for the Jackets in their victory. Malik Long, who started on Thomas’ defense as a linebacker in his sophomore season, ran for 128 yards in 19 carries with three touchdowns against the Timberwolves. A linebacker on defense, he had a big night against L-E last season.
In the slot, Chandler Kryst rushed for 72 yards and one touchdown on eight carries while catching two passes for 48 yards from quarterback Rogan Wells. As for Kryst, Thomas said his team needs to keep tabs on him in the passing game as well as when his number is called on the sweep.
“They love to hand the jet sweep off to him,” he said of last year’s 4A 100-meter dash state qualifier. “He has some wheels on him and we can’t let him get into the open.”
The Jackets will use Kryst’s breakaway speed in a spread option attack which wants to get the ball to the corners and makes the defense try and catch their playmakers.
“They love the jet sweep and they love to deceive you with motion and movement,” Thomas said of the FM offensive strategy. “They do a little power running game, but it’s more of a finesse style of offense where they like to get to the edge and get the ball to an open receiver.”
Like the Demons, Fort Mill runs a multiple defense which can make the transition from the 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 set when needed.
 After watching the film of his team’s game from last week, Thomas said it was hardly all doom and gloom. What he and his coaching staff saw were mistakes, but the errors were correctable ones and corrections were being made on the practice field during the course of this week.
“The effort last Friday was good; we just didn’t have the execution,” Thomas said. “We made mistakes on the offensive line … stuff that was mental. We have to be more aggressive. On defense, we have to wrap up. We had chances to make play last week and one guy would miss and we did not have somebody there.
“Last week, we got behind because of a mistake (a lost fumble which resulted in a CHS touchdown) and our kids didn’t quit. That was one thing that we pointed out to them; we kept fighting and we kept playing, even though Camden had that long drive to start the second half; we kept digging.
“I was pleased with the effort we had last Friday. If we can cut out the mistakes and the mental errors, then we’ll be in the game at the end.”
The combination of playing a Week Zero game with a coach who had been on the job for all of six weeks was hardly an ideal scenario for the Demons who would like nothing better than to get their first win of the season out of the way and, in their head coach’s old stomping grounds, too boot. For his part, though, Dave Thomas wants his players to relax, go out and play their game while leaving the homecoming and reminiscing to him.
 “That was stressful last week, playing a week early. We were behind on offense in getting that stuff in so, all that pressure’s over with,” he said. “I think the pressure this week is on me, with going back to my hometown and all that, and not on our kids.”

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