A punch to the gut followed a blow to the head with a haymaker to the jaw finishing the job. That was akin to what the 2018 Camden High football team experience a seven-week span.
In the season’s eight game, the Bulldogs had a missed extra point late in regulation and then did not convert on a two-point conversion in overtime in a 21-19 loss at Chester in a game which, at the time, was for the Region 4-AAA title. Four weeks later, a late-game fumble cost CHS a chance to win its second round state playoff game at Chapman.
The coup de grace came three weeks later when Chester took apart Dillon, winning 34-28, in the AAA state championship game. The chain of events was almost more than current Camden seniors John Copley and Landon Goodwin could bear to watch or, hear about after a game in which Chester cruised to a quick advantage had been decided.
“We were upset,” said Goodwin, a 5-11, 182-pound wide receiver who played for the Bulldogs’ basketball team that night in a game at rival Lugoff-Elgin. “We felt we should have been there. We had that (Chester) game … we should have pulled through. We felt that we should have been playing for that ring instead of them.”
Even now, more than eight months after the Bulldogs missed out on their chance to defeat Chester, the pain is still there.
“It hurt a lot, especially by how they won it,” said Copley on Chester completing a 15-0 season at Williams-Brice Stadium. “We were a PAT away from winning up there. We definitely have our eyes set on them this year. We’re coming back for them and, we’re coming strong.”
The Oct. 18 rematch with Chester at Zemp Stadium can wait. Both Goodwin and Copley, a 6-foot, 222-pound defensive end has more pressing needs. Goodwin is part of a deep receiving corps for the Bulldogs who are breaking in first-year starting quarterback Jaffari Pearson, who happens to be Goodwin’s cousin. On the other side of the field, Copley is part of a new-look CHS defense which said goodbye to nine senior starters after the loss to Chapman.
To hear both tell it, the task is not as daunting as it may seem.
“We lost nine of our 11 seniors so, I guess, we definitely had to rebuild,” said Copley who led the Dogs with 4.5 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in 2018. “We have guys off jayvees and a lot of guys have stepped up this year at linebacker and cornerback. We have two good safeties and the d line is looking good. We’re losing guys, but in this program, you are held to the same standard as everyone else.”
With experience at receiver, running back and offensive line, Pearson seems to be coming into a rather enviable position as he steps behind center. But this is still his first time as the starter after having taken a handful of varsity snaps last fall. Goodwin and the senior members of the offense have made making Pearson feel comfortable in his new surroundings a top priority.
The Camden offense struggled early in the summer 7-on-7 season, losing to Andrew Jackson in the first round of their own Battle of Camden tournament. Three weeks later, the Dogs won the 7-on-7 passing league tournament at Westwood which followed a strong showing at the 7-on-7 competition at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ camp in Spartanburg in mid-July.
“From our tournament first round loss to AJ to winning the tournament at Westwood, we definitely got better,” said Goodwin, who is coming off a 42-catch season in which he led the team with 643 receiving yards while scoring five times.
“It’s kind of different for me with Jaffari because he’s my cousin. We have just tried to take him under our wing and prepare him the best we could with all these 7-on-7’s … teach him right from wrong and how to act on the field because he’s a little young and this is his first season starting on varsity. We’ll see how it goes.”
While Goodwin is entering his third season as a varsity starter, Copley earned his way to a starting role during the course of the 2018 season. Playing defensive end, however, was not always in the cards for the Copley who was trying to make headway in the logjam which was playing time at linebacker for the Bulldogs who, a year ago, were loaded with talent and experience all across the second line of defense.
Wanting to get on the field, one way or another, Copley did not blink an eye when defensive coordinator Joey Hendrix offered a position switch. The chance came after Copley, by his count, played all of two snaps in last year’s Camden Shrine Club Jamboree.
“At the end of last summer,” Copley said, “I was still at linebacker. We were really stacked at that position so, they asked, ‘Hey, why don’t you try D line?’
“Coach Hendrix is a phenomenal coach and he took me under his wing and taught me the way to play defensive end real quickly. It was a perfect fit. It was like sticking a key in a lock and it turned perfectly. It’s definitely a perfect fit for me.”
Once given the chance, Copley showed his stuff on the field at his end spot. He showed a lot of the same traits as did former Bulldog great and current Georgia State head football coach Shawn Elliott in having an abundance of energy and a desire to get into the backfield and to the quarterback.
As former Camden radio analyst Marc Jones said of Copley during one broadcast, “He may not know where he is going, but he gets there in a hurry.” Copley agreed with that assessment of his game as a junior.
“I think my best thing is my pass rush. I think I get off the ball pretty quickly and can get in the backfield. That’s what I do best and that’s what my coaches tell me is my talent, if you will, is my motor,” he said.
“What I bring to the table is getting to the quarterback and bringing him down before he can get rid of the ball.”
This offseason, Copley said, he concentrated on improving against the run. He has gotten better at squeezing blocks while being a force against the run. Adding 10 pounds of muscle should help in that area.
While Copley has worked his way up the ladder, Goodwin was brought to the varsity in time for the 2016 playoffs. As a freshman, he watched record-setting CHS wide out Jo Jo Watson and Avery Barnes become the favorite targets of quarterback Devin Beckley in a high-scoring offense.
At a position which has produced Bobby Engram, Kerry Hayes, Kelvin Grant, Marvin Johnson and Watson, among others, Goodwin admitted that the wide receivers at Camden have a proud legacy to live up to.
“I feel the pressure but we’ve felt pressure ever since we got here,” he said of the pass-catching corps. “Avery and Jo Jo set a very high standard here for wide receivers. I feel that we can live up to their standards.
“Jaffari has a strong arm. We’ll be looking to take more deeps shots down the field this year.”
Like Copley, Goodwin said there is unfinished business for this Camden squad to take care on this fall. Chester, he said, is one order. The other is making up for a tough loss at Chapman, one which he did not see coming.
“Everybody expected to blow them out,” said the honor roll student. “Everybody was telling us we were the favorites … our coaches were telling us we were the favorites. We took them lightly and they showed that they were better than us that night.”
While playing on opposite sides of the field, even though both players can be expected to cross over to the other side and see playing time there this fall, both Copley and Goodwin agreed that there is nothing like football Fridays.
Game preparation, both said, begins on Thursday.
“It starts the night before when I get my Old Spice deodorant out. It says Champion on it. I guess that’s a little superstition for me,” Copley said. “During school the whole day, I can just about focus on schoolwork, if I’m being honest. Every Friday is a different day of the week for me.”
Honesty is also something which was stressed by Goodwin.
“Game mode starts for me on Thursday, when we go to Zemp for practice,” Goodwin said. “After that, I’ll go home and make sure I eat a lot and get all my stuff ready for the game. I listen to music all day on game day. I don’t do much work on game days, I’m not going to lie.”
Both John Copley and Landon Goodwin are focused on trying to bring an eighth state championship back to Camden. For Copley, that is the ultimate goal for this Bulldog squad as well as for those who have come before or, will follow.
“State champion. That’s the standard that’s been set here; seven state championships,” said Copley who seemed to be getting more energized just talking about it. “This is small-town South Carolina and this community expects state championships. As a team, that’s what we expect, too.”