The Thoroughbreds make the short trip across town to open the season Friday. With the Hornets dropping down to Class AAA this year, the two schools aren’t in the same region anymore and don’t meet in the “Battle of Aiken” at the end of the season.
But South Aiken coach Jeremy West doesn’t expect there to be any drop-off in intensity.
“It doesn’t matter if we play them the third game, 10th game, fifth game, it’s always going to be a big game,” West said. “They’re much improved, and Coach (Brian) Neal is doing a good job with them. We’re going to have to play our best game to be able to compete with them.”
The Thoroughbreds have the upper hand in the rivalry with two consecutive wins. That’s a rarity for South Aiken, which suffered through a 14-game losing streak to Aiken at one point.
West and his team, however, have loftier goals than beating Aiken. Getting above .500 and making a trip to the playoffs are objectives for a team that has only posted seven wins in the past four years.
The Thoroughbreds are altering their offensive philosophy a bit now that strong-armed quarterback Bo Baldwin has graduated.
“We’re changing up and we’ll go more up-tempo,” West said. “As a coach, you’ve got to adapt to the personnel you’ve got and I feel like that’s the best thing we can do. The kids have responded and are having fun with that.”
Bowen Smith takes over at quarterback, and West praised him for his leadership abilities.
“If something’s not going right, he’ll get on to them,” he said. “He’s like an extra kind of coach in the huddle.”
He’ll be joined in the backfield by Jeff McReynolds and Malik Lee, a transfer from Wardlaw Academy.
The defense is anchored by Rasool Clemons, one of the area’s top prospects.
“In the weight room he’s the last guy sweeping it out, wiping it off,” West said. “He’s a great team guy. The other kids buy into that and see he could be a real jerk if he wanted to be, but he’s one of us and it’s easier to follow a guy like that. … People listen to him. We’re lucky to have him.”
Clemons will see some time at receiver, but he’s much more at home on the defensive front.
“I’m a defensive guy,” said Clemons, who has committed to Virginia.
Clemons will have some help. Six of the Thoroughbreds’ front seven return, including linemen Caleb Stanford, Shone Brodus, Tyberious Simmons and Sojourn Gartrell and linebackers Jeremy Hamilton and Ryan McNutt. On special teams, All-Area placekicker Owen Myers returns and figures to be a valuable weapon.
South Aiken faces a challenging schedule before it begins Region 5-AAAA play. Irmo and River Bluff have joined the region, along with North Augusta, Lexington and White Knoll.
“It’s going to be tough,” West said. “Until someone knocks off North Augusta, they’re the team to beat.”
He is hoping to surprise some teams this year.
“Not a lot of people talking about us, and that’s fine with me,” West said. “Maybe we can fly under the radar a little bit.”