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Anything but an average opener
oung Knights face challenge against re-energized Hornets
KHALID BELTON ... NC tight end

North Central at C.A. Johnson

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

2014 Records: NC: 4-6; CAJ: 2-8

Series record: CAJ leads, 1-0

Last meeting: CAJ, 14-12, in 2014

The Skinny: Tonight marks the start of the 37th season of football at North Central. The Knights have compiled a 174-213 record over their first 36 years … Louis Clyburn begins his seventh season as head coach at North Central and has fashioned a 16-46 mark over that time. In seven years as a high school coach, including one season at Andrew Jackson, the Camden native has a 21-52 career record … The Knights will try and snap a 17-year drought in season openers. NC is 15-21 in the first games of the season with their last win coming in a 37-21 win over Mount Pleasant to kick off the 1997 campaign … Tonight marks the debut of Demond Logan as the head coach at C.A. Johnson … The host Hornets have had just five winning seasons over the past 45 years playing football.

If you’re going: Tonight’s game will be played at Bolden Stadium in Columbia. Take I-20 West to Two Notch Road in Columbia. Turn right at the eighth traffic light onto Germany St. (you will see a green sign directing you to the stadium.) Bolden Stadium is a half-mile down the road.

Suffice to say, Louis Clyburn did not have a vote as to who C.A. Johnson High School hired as its football coach after an opening occurred following the retirement of Jerry Jackson following the 2014 season.

In Jackson’s place steps Demond Logan, a coach with college experience on his resume, who makes his debut on the Fighting Hornets’ sidelines tonight when they entertain Clyburn-led North Central at Bolden Stadium in Columbia.

From what Clyburn knows of Logan and from watching CAJ on films from its scrimmage, the Columbia entry may have the right man directing their football fortunes.

“From what we’ve seen on film, Coach Logan is doing an outstanding job,” Clyburn said. “We’re high school football coaches and we’re all in the business of teaching young people. You don’t want any bad situation for any school but it certainly would not have hurt if (Logan) wasn’t doing quite as good a job there. Unfortunately for the Knights, he is.”

A year ago in this game, it would not have mattered if C.A. Johnson was coached by Lombardi, Shula or Noll. On a night in which the Knights repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, it was the class A guests who left Boonetown with a 14-12 victory.

Much of NC’s problems that night stemmed from breaking in a new center after their starter went down with an injury. A series of bad and botched snaps proved to be the Knights’ undoing. In trying to make sure such a scenario does not happen this evening, Clyburn said, during practice this week, five different lineman practiced lining up over the football and delivered snaps to the quarterback.

Saying if he had his druthers he would rather not have played a week zero game with a team as young as he has this season, Clyburn said the situation is the same for both teams who have had the same amount of practice. They key will be which team carries over what they have worked on in the past several weeks on the practice field onto the Bolden Stadium turf.

“It is going to be a battle,” Clyburn said. “Ultimately, in week zero games, just like our game with (CAJ) last year, it comes down to who make the least amount of mistakes. That certainly did not go our way last year with the centers and the center snaps. We focused on that this week in practice. 

“One thing our team has taken pride in is taking the little things, making them important and making sure they don’t become negatives for us.”

As for Logan and the Fighting Hornets, they seem to have taken the approach of keeping things simple. That is what Clyburn and his staff have seen on the three scrimmage videos which the two sides have exchanged. With a new head coach and a new staff, Clyburn expects C.A. Johnson to keep it close to the vest, especially at this early juncture. In fact, he expects both teams to go with several base plays.

“We have enough video from their scrimmages for us to get a feel for what he likes to do and what they are trying to do. They are keeping it simple,” Clyburn said. “If I was the coach at C.A. Johnson, I’d be doing the exact same thing. They are going to have limited plays on offense this early in the season and with a youthful team like we have, so are we.”

The hosts are led by quarterback JaQuan Perry, a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder.  The CAJ offense revolves around the senior who will have a pair of veteran and talented tailbacks in seniors Shaquan Murphy (6-1, 215) and Makel Barnes (6-0, 220) to hand the ball off to in a run-first attack.

“You can tell that he is installing his system, piece by piece, as we look through films from their scrimmages. They have a good plan,” Clyburn said of Logan’s offensive scheme. “They have athletes and they have a good athlete at quarterback who can throw the ball and they try to move the pocket and attack you in different places. They will run the sprint out and they run the speed option well.

“They also have a good front line that they can run the toss and the dive behind. It’s one of those things that we have to target. Their quarterback is the focal point for us. If we can stop him from making big plays, it will increase our chances for keeping them out of the end zone.”

Clyburn said the addition of former Andrew Jackson head coach David Moore to the staff on the defensive side has made the Knights a better team on that side of the football. Clyburn said he expects no stone to be left unturned as to what the NC defense might and will see tonight.

“The addition of Coach (David) Moore to our staff has been outstanding,” Clyburn said. “Coach Moore is an exciting game to have on the field and the kids rally around him, as well.”

In last week’s 7-6 loss to Buford in the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree, the Knights played minus leading returning rusher Cedrick Cunningham who will be back at full speed tonight after sitting out the mini-game with an ankle injury. While Cunningham’s absence took part of the NC ground game away a week ago, it allowed the passing game to thrive to the tune of quarterbacks Bubba Williamson and Delmarcus Wood combining to throw for better than 150 yards.

Clyburn said in looking at the CAJ defensive scheme, burning the Fighting Hornets with the deep ball may be easier said than done.

“You are playing a defense which has athletes, especially on the edge,” he said. “They play a deep cover-three in the secondary. When we played Buford in the jamboree, they walked down and were stacking the box and playing man coverage so, we were able to hit them on a couple of fades.

“I don’t know if that deep ball in those situations will be there for us on Friday night because of the soft coverage that they have played in their scrimmages. They have, basically, said ‘we’re going to use our speed to keep everything in front of us and tackle well.’”

The change in the CAJ staff has led to the Knights using the film from last year’s meeting with the Fighting  Hornets being used more for NC to see what mistakes it made in that game rather than trying to discern any tendencies from tonight’s hosts.

This time around, Clyburn hopes to turn the table by going into enemy territory and coming back with a road win which he said his young team can surely use in getting the season started on the right foot.

“Our goal is to go 1-0 this week and that’s it,” Clyburn said of playing it one game at a time.

 “It should be an exciting game. Sometimes with a young football team, when you put them on bus and take them to a game, it keeps them focused more than if you’re home with all the distractions there. We’re excited and our coaches are excited about (tonight) and about this season.”