Now is the time for South Charleston, and coach Donnie Mays realizes it.
With nine returning starters in attack and defense, the Black Eagles want to take the next step in their program. Yes, they’ve made it to the Class AAA playoffs twice in the previous three seasons, but they haven’t had a record for wins or playoff wins since 2016. They could do it this year.
“We let a few games go by last year,” Mays said, referring to losses to Huntington and Riverside by a total of five points. “We felt we had done this to ourselves. We think we can improve that, so it’s good for a young team to believe that they can overcome these adversities from last year. ”
SC went 4-6 last season, winning the No. 13 seed in the AAA playoffs, and fell to Parkersburg South 47-13 in the first round. During the offseason, even with all the uncertainty due to COVID-19, Mays and his coaching staff have tried to keep their players together.
“We had Zoom meetings with the kids,” Mays said, “and tried to use technology to make sure we stayed in communication with them, and built the team like that. We told our kids that all talent doesn’t matter unless you’re a good football team, are together and understand the person next to you and the importance of blocking for them. ”
South Charleston is led by senior defensive lineman Zeiqui Lawton (6-3, 250lbs), a three-time all-state pick who has received more than 20 Division I scholarship offers. Lawton is also returning to the post. back, where he is considered an excellent blocker.
“Everyone knows the story of Zeiqui,” Mays said. “He’s a special young man and a powerful human. He really is a beast. ”
On offense, there’s a lot to love for SC, starting with Trey Dunn (6-0, 180), the returning starter at quarterback who had 1,965 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and also ran for seven goals.
“We’re really excited about him and his future,” Mays said. “In the past we’ve started three different shifts in first year and Trey has taken over from the start. ”
The team’s first runner also returns in second year, Mondrell Dean (6-2, 200), who ran for 561 yards and six touchdowns. Other contenders to carry the ball include Lawton, transfer from Princeton and junior Ta’Vahjay Smith (5-11, 160) and freshman Amellio Miller, a standout last year at South Charleston Middle.
Four starters are back on the offensive line, including junior Xavier Bausley (6-5, 300), who also attracts the attention of Division I. Other returnees are seniors Zack Moore (5-11, 374) and Cody Buckley (5-9, 265) and junior Nijil Amburgey (6-3, 240), who faces junior James Butts for playing time. Senior Hunter Burns (6-0, 230) was the long snapper and run last year and was posted along the line.
Three of SC’s top receivers are all back in sophomore Jah’Den Estep (5-10, 180) and seniors Shyleik Kinney (5-9, 175) and Donavin Davis (5-11, 180). Last season, Estep had 22 catches for 305 yards and one TD, Kinney 20 receptions for 187 yards and one score and Davis 14 catches for 256 yards and three TDs.
Two other receiving candidates are Anthony Jackson (6-1, 175), a former Nitro athlete transferred from Florida and Kevin Tinsley (6-0, 160), transferred from Capital.
Bausley anchors the defensive line from his nose tackle position, but second-year winger Jayson Barnett (5-11, 225) turned his quickness into eight sacks and 15 tackles for a loss last year. Sophomore Zimarian Lawton (6-3, 245), Zeiqui’s “little” brother, completes the group. Depth is provided by Moore, Amburgey, Butts, junior Jaiearnest Keys and second student Aaron Spurlock (6-1, 220).
Dean was active in linebacker last season with 42 tackles, including 16 for lost yards. He and juniors Caiden Davis (6-0, 180) and Hunter Withrow (5-9, 197) are the top contenders there. Senior Joseph McAllister (6-1, 185) returns to outside linebacker and fights Smith for playing time.
Estep and Donavin Davis hold cornerback positions and promising rookie Wayne Harris could feature in that as well. He is the cousin of former great SC and Kennedy Award winner Tyler Harris. Jackson and Tinsley are the main contenders for free security. Kinney is ready to play nickel.