Inside the Swarm: Chester
By: Paul Davis
On a hot, muggy day in August the 2009 Jackets took their first step down the long road they all hope will lead to the State Championships.
As is the Jacket tradition, they met promptly at 3:40 in the chorus room for the pre-game devotion.
Perhaps by coincidence, the lead-off speaker for the 2009 was Union’s FCA representative and former Wofford Terriers football player, James Gonsoulin.
“Last year I spoke to you prior to the Chester game,” began Gonsoulin. “You made a name for yourself at that game and that is kinda my theme tonight, your name.
“The Bible often refers to a person as the ‘Son of…’ like the Son of Jesse. In that day, that really meant something. As a Jacket football player, you represent the school, each other, your team, your coaches, your family, whether it’s good or bad.
“You didn’t know how good you would be last year. You had to battle from the inside out to win that game. When I played football at Wofford we went to Montana for the play-offs. It was 14 degrees out. They had great players. Near the end of the game, we were ahead by one, and their offense got the ball. I played defensive end and knew I had to make a play. Seven seconds left. Their kicker came on the field. He was very good and is now in the NFL.
“I’m praying. The offense gets set. The snap. And the kick goes wide. We won by one point as an underdog. We played from the inside out.
“After reading Romans 12:2, Gonsoulin challenged the Jackets not to be conformed to the world. Set the tone for the season. How you react to adversity will set the tone for the rest of the season. It’s all about team effort. Play with passion. Everyone on the team matters – the scout team, the position backups, everyone. Take this opportunity to glorify God every day. If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, please see me.
“What are you going to do tonight…with your life?”
Following the devotion, Jacket head coach Dave Lipsey told the team that he had read that former LSU coach Lou Saban told his team to never look at the scoreboard.
“Play with everything you have. What does the scoreboard have to do with how you play? If you are ahead, you’ll let down. If you are behind, you get down on yourselves.
“Between now and kick-off time is when you get your mind right. You have to see yourselves making plays.
“We went over
the keys in the game. We are more structured this year than in the
past. We have been working from last November to get ready for the
next ten weeks.
We won last year but then didn’t play in game two. Get ready to play.
“In the cafeteria, seniors eat first, then juniors, then sophomores, then freshmen. The defense meets at 5:05 and the offense at 5:20. Make sure you have all your equipment tonight. Don’t show up without shoes…” (which happened during one of the pre-season games.)
Coach Chip Bailey reminded the Jacket defense that they had been working hard since November to get ready for this game. “Tonight, we will find out how good we are, playing the number one ranked 3A team in the state. But the game means nothing. We will decide if their ranking is true or not. They are a good team. Show them we are too. We won’t do that with our gloves, wrist bands and that stuff. We have to do it on the field. Their offensive line doesn’t appear to move well. We must play hard and our quickness is an advantage to us. They like the Dart and like to throw to their two receiver side. They haven’t shown their quarterback running.
“And they like to throw deep. Don’t let them get behind you. If we play like we are capable, they won’t get to the goal line.
Coach Dave Manes began by saying it would be short and sweet. “You have been lifting, working hard since November. There may be some teams in the state who have worked as hard as you have but none have worked harder.
“You are well prepared. How you handle things will determine a lot about your season. Make them adjust.
“It boils down to a couple of things. First, get off the ball low and hard. We need ten steps after contact. Run up and down field. One game does not make a season. But how you handle this game will. Games are lost, not won by penalties. If the effort is there, we will be fine.
“Seniors, the clock starts ticking tonight. You are guaranteed just ten games. The rest are earned. We have a great tradition here: Union. Players graduate but the Yellow Jacket Tradition never does. Let’s have fun, talk to each other and that will help you handle anything they throw at you. If you have a chance to make a play, make it.”
Coach Bryan Robinson reminded the offense that no one gave them a chance to win. “Believe in each other. You played well last week.”
In the Gym.
Special teams coach Caleb Clark reminded them that Chester had some playmakers on the field. “Execute our plans. We have some playmakers, too. No special teams penalties.
“Don’t give them an easy one,” began Coach Lipsey. “You did a good job last week. Be the attacker. Have fun. Get after it all night. The journey starts tonight. Someone (in the upstate) will play 15 games this year. How you react during the game tonight really matters.”
“This is Day One,” began Coach Lipsey. “Don’t look at the scoreboard. Play hard every play. Don’t take anything home with you on the bus tonight. We have an empty DVD. What are you gonna put on it tonight? What are you gonna be known for? You want teams to know they have to strap it on when they play the Jackets. If it's red and blue, hit it. Go to the whistle. One heartbeat.”
At the half.
“Keep playing, began Coach Lipsey. “Keeping playing. You have to play tough inside. Keep pounding. Their end is getting into our face too quickly. Stay on your blocks. Listen to the adjustments that your coaches will make.”
“Take a knee,” began Lipsey. “I don’t want to see any hanging heads. We need to focus on our next game and Monday practice. Keep your heads right. Get better every day. It won’t get easier. Stay together. Nine games to go.” Coach Maness added, “What you do after defeat really matters.”
Junior offensive lineman Jason Adams has caught his coach’s attention with his work ethic and coachability. “You tell Jason to fix something and he goes right out and does that. He has improved a lot,” added Coach Robinson.
Time will tell but it looks like there may be a student spirit section at Union’s games. A very vocal group of students were cheering for the Jackets from the 35-yard line.
Newly-arrived Denzel Johnson, a junior linebacker who transferred from Ohio, has quickly made a name for himself through his hard work and great attitude. “He is only gonna get better,” added defensive coordinator Chip Bailey.
Nick Jackson made a great open field tackle on a kick-off return…though previously sidelined with a minor injury, Jackson kept encouraging his teammates along the sidelines, even though the game was hopelessly out of reach...
LaBrian Smith's late-game interception and big runback sparked the Jackets to a score…Union did a good job controlling penalties… even though the night has very humid, not one Jacket came off the field due to cramping, a tribute to Union’s intense conditioning program.
Versatile linebacker Neil Washington was another Jacket who caught the attention of coaches for his strong game on defense, his increasing confidence, and work ethic.
And junior running back, Michael Johnson, was also singled out for his strong work ethic, positive attitude, being very coachable and being a true student-athlete.
The Journey Continues. Spartanburg at Union. Be there.
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