PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. — Al Lown found out a lot about his Silver Bluff team when the Bulldogs were at their lowest last year.
After a promising 3-0 start, Silver Bluff fell flat in a shutout loss to Midland Valley.
The next week, Strom Thurmond gave the Bulldogs one of the worst beatings in school history, a 52-7 shellacking. Silver Bluff began Region 5-AA play the following week with a loss to Swansea.
“That was like one of those out of body experiences,” Lown said of the loss to Strom Thurmond. “Of course Thurmond had a great team and they were jacked up to play us because we’d beaten them down here the year before. Our young people, we just kind of fell apart. It was a nasty experience.”
At 3-3, Silver Bluff was at a crossroads.
“One thing I’m proud about last year, the players and coaches, when bad things happen you can turn and run away or you can turn and fight,” Lown said. “We turned and fought. We had a good year. (But) I don’t want to go through that again.”
Silver Bluff reeled off six consecutive wins and reached the Class AA Lower State championship game. Although the Bulldogs fell short against Bishop England, Lown knew his team had cleared a significant hurdle.
That momentum carried over into the off-season, where Lown said the Bulldogs had their best workouts in a decade.
“I think playing for Lower State championship last year with a lot of young kids kind of revitalized our off-season workouts,” Lown said. “We’re real encouraged about our team.”
Silver Bluff will rely on its Wing-T offense. With offensive linemen James Jacks (6-0, 220) and Gyasi Yeldell (6-0, 240) returning, the Bulldogs’ running attack should be sharp again with Tyler Fishalow, Dontay Ingram and R.J. Stallings.
Jalen Jackson will be Silver Bluff’s quarterback this year, and Lown said the team’s former junior varsity quarterback is back after taking a break to pursue other sports.
“He’s a perfect fit for the Wing-T,” Lown said. “He can handle the ball, he’s a smart kid, and he’s got a pretty good arm. He can hit wide open people that we need to hit.”
Lown is moving to a 3-4 scheme on defense to combat a lack of down linemen. He said the team is solid at linebacker and in the secondary.
The Bulldogs will rely on senior Pedro Zambrano to handle all kicking chores.
“He can punt, he can kick off, he’s been in pressure situations,” Lown said. “He’s invaluable at a school like ours. I feel pretty good about that.”
Silver Bluff lost Pelion and Swansea as region foes but picked up Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Calhoun County, a pair of teams that were Class A powers in recent years.
“The region got a lot tougher this year. It’s going to be a battle,” Lown said. “The first region game with Bamberg-Ehrhardt is going to be key. Whoever wins that game isn’t going to lose two other region games, I don’t think.”
Even if the Bulldogs lose a couple of games, Lown knows that his team can bounce back. They did it last year.
“I’m excited about our team,” Lown said. “They’ve really worked hard.”