AIKEN — When South Aiken opened football practice in late July, two figures stood out as the Thoroughbreds went through their paces.
One was new offensive coordinator Ted Cain, who barked out plays for the squad to run.
The other was quarterback Bo Baldwin, who is back after having his sophomore season cut short by injury.
It’s no exaggeration to say that South Aiken’s success this year hinges on Baldwin and Cain. So far, the relationship seems to be working.
“They get along well,” South Aiken coach Jeremy West said.
Cain is an Aiken native who has loads of coaching experience at the college level. A former head coach at VMI and offensive coordinator at North Carolina State and Vanderbilt, Cain joined the Thoroughbreds after spending last season at Barnwell.
Baldwin, who is listed at 6-6 and 230 pounds, is drawing plenty of interest from college recruiters. South Carolina and Clemson are interested, as are national powers like Alabama and Louisiana State University.
“Nobody’s offered yet, but he’s on their boards,” West said.
With Baldwin under center, South Aiken snapped a 13-game losing streak with wins in its first two games last season. After a close loss to Silver Bluff, Baldwin was lost for the rest of the season the following week when he broke his collarbone in a loss to Strom Thurmond.
The Thoroughbreds experienced some other injuries to key personnel, and didn’t win the rest of the year.
“That’s when I found out a lot about our kids. We had a lot of injuries happen at once,” West said. “But the kids kept fighting. We played North Augusta to a single-score game and had chances. Against Aiken, we had chances. Our kids didn’t give up, and that gave us something to build on.”
West will find out early on what his team is made of. South Aiken is on the road for its first three games against Class AAAA schools Richland Northeast, Greenwood and Northwestern.
“Our schedule is tough. It’s been voted one of the toughest schedules in the state,” West said. “They are (brutal). But we want to get to where we can make ourselves competitive enough so when we do make the playoffs, which is our goal this year, once we get to the playoffs we’ve got a team that can advance.”
Baldwin isn’t the only talented Thoroughbred. Lineman Justin Day has committed to Kentucky, all-purpose player Deandre Schoultz has been offered by Colorado State, and defensive back Teddrick Steadman has received interest from Air Force.
And Cain isn’t the only new coach. Hank Deer is working with the defense as linebacker coach, which moved to a 3-4 scheme this year to combat a lack of depth on the defensive line.
With strength in the secondary and offensive line, West hopes South Aiken can reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“We’ve got to win more than two games. Our biggest thing is we went from zero to two, but we still haven’t won a region game yet,” West said. “We need to win some games in the region. If you finish in the top two or three you get an automatic berth. We’ve got to win some games we’re not supposed to win.”