SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s been nearly a full year since South Charleston edged George Washington, 13-12, in its 2017 season opener.
But a season that began with high hopes did not pan out for the Black Eagles, who finished 4-7 for their first losing record in Donnie Mays’ six years as head coach.
Now the Black Eagles are looking to return to their winning ways as they prepare for Thursday’s season opener at GW.
“We have a lot of new faces out there on the field and a lot of sophomores because we played 11 freshmen last year,” Mays said. “And we have a lot of first-year juniors and seniors.
“It’s a young football team, but a talented football team. But talent doesn’t win games. We have to make sure we play for one another and not with one another.”
While SC did manage to qualify for the Class AAA playoffs despite last year’s 4-6 regular season mark, it did so as a No. 16 seed and suffered a lopsided loss to to No. 1 Huntington in the opening round.
Although this year’s roster features only nine seniors, Mays won’t let his squad use that as a crutch as it strives for a seventh straight trip to the postseason.
“You always want your kids to grow up quickly, but we don’t treat them like they’re sophomores,” Mays said. “We’ve been in this situation before. You treat them like upperclassmen.”
As for SC’s senior class, linebacker Drew Joseph and offensive/defensive lineman Mark Terry are leaders on and off the field.
Joseph is the team’s leading tackler each of the last three seasons, while Mays praised Terry for his resiliency.
“A big thing for us is guys that plays with heart,” Mays said. “Joseph is one of them and another one is Mark Terry. He never comes off the field unless something is broken.
“I look at guys like that for leadership. Sometimes what you do and the intangibles is what makes others around you play as hard as they do.”
Sophomore tailback Jayden Johnson is the team’s primary ball carrier, while last year’s leading receiver, Samahji Simon, is back after catching 33 passes for 444 yards with five touchdowns.
“He’s kind of a coach for us on the field,” Mays said of Simon.
Basketball players Romeo Dunham and Shazaun Cunningham are first-year wide receivers transitioning from the hardwood to the gridiron.
Mays also has high hopes for a pair of 225-pound defensive linemen — Zeiqui Lawton and Rashad Rolle.
SC should get a good idea of where it stands early in the season considering its first five games are against four in-state teams that qualified for the Class AAA playoffs in 2017 and Johnson Central, last year’s runner-up in Kentucky’s Class 4A.
“Starting with GW and Capital back-to-back, those are big-time rivalries for us. We have to focus on one game at a time,” Mays said. “We’ve had a great, successful run at South Charleston. We’re going to schedule teams to see where we are, not schedule teams to get in the playoffs, because that doesn’t make you any better.”