AIKEN — Jeremy West can see the progress his South Aiken team has made in the three years since he took over the football program.
The proof is in the numbers.
“I’ve got young men here who have gone 0-11, 2-9 and 2-9, and there’s 22 of them still here,” West said. “That speaks a lot about these kids.”
The Thoroughbreds are looking to build on last year’s finish, which included a win over rival Aiken in the season finale.
“The first year we were trying to get things going,” West said. “Second year we made some strides. Last year we hadn’t won a region game, and we won two.”
Lineman Casey Sanders expects that progression to continue.
“We really expect to go out and show off the hard work we’ve put in this summer,” he said. “We’ve been out every morning early and building a camaraderie that we never had.”
South Aiken’s success centers around quarterback Bo Baldwin, who has suffered injuries in each of the past two seasons. Baldwin, who has received a grayshirt scholarship offer from South Carolina, leads a senior contingent that includes running back Adam Allen, tight end and linebacker Will Holbrook and wide receiver/defensive back Jordan Scott.
“Right now the big key is staying healthy, avoiding the injury bug,” West said. “Last year due to the injury bug a lot of these guys got meaningful reps.”
With a passer of Baldwin’s caliber, West plans to utilize a pro-style offensive attack.
“Whatever the defense gives us we’ll try to take advantage of,” West said. “We’re going to try to be balanced as we can, both run and pass, because we’ve got both tailbacks back along with Bo.”
West concedes that defense is South Aiken’s top priority. The Thoroughbreds allowed 30 or more points in eight games last season.
“That’s what we’ve got to get better at,” he said. “We return the whole front seven, but a lot of guys in the secondary got a lot of playing time last year. We’ve got to get some three and outs and help our offense out.”
Junior defensive lineman Rasool Clemons has scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida State and Virginia, and West expects him to anchor the defense.
“Rasool is real humble and wants to get better every day,” West said.
On special teams, West is more optimistic. Punter Matt Albertson is one of the area’s top performers, and soccer player Skyler Lightbody and Owen Myers are expected to handle place-kicking chores.
Once again, South Aiken faces a daunting schedule. The Thoroughbreds open with home games against Richland Northeast, Greenwood and Northwestern. Contests against Silver Bluff and Strom Thurmond also await before the Thoroughbreds begin Region 5-AAAA play.
“The biggest thing is that South Aiken doesn’t enter the season with an eight-game losing streak,” West said. “The kids don’t hear that. We put the Aiken High game behind us. We’re focused on Richland Northeast. It was good to have something positive happen to spring us into the off-season.”