The Gathering Swarm

By PAUL DAVIS

If you could only use one word to describe the Yellow Jackets’ spring practice try "exciting."

But, on second thought, maybe you would need to add "cramped" with over 120  9th-12th grade prospective Jackets working on one practice field, while the other one was being graded and re seeded.

Still, on third thought, you'd have to add coach Tommy Bobo's comment: "We're excited about what we see this spring. The kids are enthusiastic and have a great attitude."

And that word "attitude" is something Bobo has been stressing since returning to Union 2 years ago and he's beginning to see results.

"The rising senior class of players," bragged Bobo, "shows great leadership potential and a lot of character. I expect a lot out of them this season."

And Bobo and his staff will have a lot to work with.

"We have a lot of experienced players back — including the rising juniors, many of which got a lot of snaps starting last season — on both sides of the ball. Our offensive and defensive lines look really solid. We have two-year starter Cameron Willis back at quarterback and expect to establish a strong running attack to go with a passing attack built around four returning wide receivers."

Union will begin its season with long-time rival Spartanburg, followed by Dorman and Gaffney. And it doesn't get much easier when region play opens with newcomer Wade Hampton. Union dropped non region foes York and Fairfield-Central, and long time region mate Clover  but added Wade Hampton, Blue Ridge and J. L Mann. All three teams made the playoffs last year.

Greer and Clinton will be tough as always, Riverside continues to improve and Eastside is hopeful under a new head coach.

Union will go to a 3-5-3 defense this year, primarily because Union's current personnel is a good match for that formation.

While the offense and defense look strong this year, the kicking game is a major question and graduating senior David Gregory — whose kicks were the margin of victory in more than one game in the playoffs — will be sorely missed and hard to replace.

Cameron Willis will be more than adequate as the punter but the placekicking duties are very much "up for grabs".

Bobo doesn't confine his excitement to just the varsity.

"We have a lot of good 9th graders coming up and the JV looks to benefit a lot from last year's 9th grade team," explained Bobo. "Some of the ones to watch are Bo Whitney (QB), Jeremy Porter ( WR/DB ), Danny Grady (WR/DB), Tim Duckett (LB/FB) and Sylvester Moore (LB)."

With over 100 players packing a single practice field, time and space management were at a premium.

But, Bobo got plenty of help from several key additions to the coaching staff, two of which were on Jacket championship teams.

"Cedric Jeter, who graduated in 2001, played linebacker at Union College, Ky., for four years and majored in history. Coach Jeter will be a teacher's aide at Sims, while he continues his schooling for teacher certification. Coach Jeter will work with our middle linebackers.

"Another former Jacket is Rocky Cooper, who was on the 1995 state championship team as a strong safety. Coach Cooper has coached the JVs at White Knoll and then the Varsity running backs at Broome where he was a part of Coach Bill Owens 2004 State Championship staff.

 He will be teaching PE at Foster Park and will coach the inside linebackers."

"Our other new addition to the staff is Caleb Clark, " continued Bobo. "Coach Clark graduated from Lander this May and was a multi-sport athlete at Ninety-Six High School. He did not get to be here for Spring Practice. He will be teaching math and helping with our fullbacks."

But, there is one vacancy that will probably not be filled any time soon, that of offensive coordinator.

"We're really going to miss coach (Kevin) Farmer," said Bobo, "not only for his technical football knowledge but for his character as a person. So, this season we will be using a committee approach to developing the offensive game plan."

The excitement was palpable throughout the 10 days of spring practice, particularly the last day when they went 11-on-11.

And while football coaches typically "poor mouth" predicting the outcome of the next game or season, Union's coaches seem to have a twinkle in their eyes when discussing the Jackets and their prospects for the 2006 season.

The journey has already begun.

 

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