Originally created 11/05/99

Hornets strike balance



AIKEN -- Aiken never would have been that lonely kid on the playground hoping not to get bullied by other children.

But some football teams feel bullied come playoff time. They hope no one shuts down the star player and puts the pressure on role players.

Hornet coach Carey Johnson has refused to elevate a select few above the other team members, and that has paid dividends every week when opposing coaches scurry to dissect film on Aiken, only to find depth, speed and more depth on the junior-dominated team.

"Everybody contributes," Johnson said. "I can't single one person out that has made the difference for this team. That's the way I like it, you can't focus on one person. I don't even look at the stats, all I care about is whether we win or lose."

Aiken (8-2 overall, 5-1 Region 3-AAAA) can clinch the Region 3-AAAA title tonight with a win at Airport. The Hornets have won five straight region games since falling at Lexington in their first league game.

The evenly distributed Hornet productionis found in team statistics vs. individual numbers. The Hornets are the second-leading South Carolina-area rushing team behind Silver Bluff with 2,446 yards, yet not one running back has cleared the 600-yard mark. The stingy defense lists no player among the top area's top 20 in tackles. Aaron Epps has 68 tackles and four Hornets have 50, three have 40 and two have 30.

A host of juniors lead the offensive attack with Antwan Smith totaling 553 yards on 79 carries. Epps follows with 386 yards on 75 tries, and quarterback Corey Ready has piled up 367 yards and leads the team with 10 touchdowns.

"I said all along that Aiken was one of the best teams in the region along with Lexington," North Augusta coach Joe Long said. "They just have so many weapons. They're a really good football team. Their success is no surprise to me or anyone, I think."

The Yellow Jackets were the Hornets' latest casualty, dropping a 44-6 decision in Aiken last week.

Aiken's defense shut down all-star performers Anthony Young and Jamaal Johnson behind the stellar play of junior cornerback Brian Staley and senior defensive end Marcus Simpkins.

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Simpkins is noted as a top-50 player in South Carolina, and usually sways offenses to run away from his position. Last week, the senior was named South Carolina prep player of the week by scprepfootball.com.

Staley, the fastest and most athletic player on the squad, has six interceptions and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He has scored seven touchdowns on the year, four receiving, one rushing, one on a punt return and one on an interception. The junior also has 272 yards receiving on just 10 catches, making him Ready's favorite target in the Wing-T rush-oriented offense. Ready has passed for 574 yards on 29-of-66 passing with seven touchdowns.

Aiken, which finished 7-6 last year and lost to Walterboro in the second round of the Class AAAA-Division II playoffs, came out firing with a 51-7 drubbing of power Sumter to open the year. The Hornets then suffered losses to Georgia's Colquitt County and region foe Lexington. Now even with the Hornets late surge to success, Johnson remains skeptical, holding his praises for a later date.

"If we're still playing in four weeks I'll say we have a good football team," he said. "But not yet. We're just concerned with beating a good Airport football team. We take it one game at a time and that's the one we're focused on right now."