West Florence football’s success is the top local sports story
FLORENCE, S.C. – It’s a story that could have gone the other way – in a bad way.
West Florence softball coach Kevin Jones resigned last spring. So did boys’ basketball coach Pete Ellis, and volleyball coach Hilary Pratt said she was fired.
Also, Trey Woodberry resigned as athletic director and later that spring as football coach after directing the Knights to a first-round playoff win.
Less than a month before spring practice, the Knights hired Jody Jenerette – with a 56-83 record at his alma mater, Aynor – to be their football coach.
Optimism among the West fan base was offset by bewilderment.
For every “Let’s go!” there was a “What in the world are we doing?”
Many football players had a close bond with Woodberry. How would they react with a new coach on such short notice?
All Jenerette did was direct West Florence’s football team to an 11-2 record, its first region championship since 2012 and an appearance in the Class 5A lower-state semifinals.
This story ended in a successful way that not many people expected, and that makes West Florence football team’s 2018 season the top local sports story of 2018.
Jenerette became the Morning News’ Coach of the Year. Knights running back Ailym Ford was not only the Morning News’ Football Player of the Year, he was a Shrine Bowl selection and finalist for the honor of South Carolina’s Mr. Football.
With an offensive coordinator, Darryl Page, who coached Wilson to a state championship in 2007, West Florence did what thought it could do best – run the football. Not only did Ford rush for more than 2,400 yards, quarterback Cooper Wallace rushed and passed for more than 1,000.
What started as a read-option offense evolved more toward a run-pass-option by season’s end.
Another Shrine Bowl pick, Michael Hayes, converted an onside kick that turned the tide in a dramatic comeback victory over Carolina Forest in the Knights’ closest challenge to their undefeated region championship run.
“We exceeded expectations, and that’s awesome. But, we expected to come in and be good, come in and continue the success they had here,” said Greg Johnson, a former Darlington assistant principal who replaced Woodberry as West’s athletic director. “We had some good players in place that made a really big impact.
“To win 11 ballgames? We didn’t expect that. But, we expected to win.”
Jenerette also expected to win. West’s players bought into what he taught.
And, although the Knights lost in that lower-state semifinal against eventual state champion, Dutch Fork, the feeling of accomplishment quickly overshadowed any flicker of disappointment.
The week before the Dutch Fork game, not long after the Knights defeated Fort Dorchester, Jenerette talked about what this season personally meant to him now that the entire fan base was on the side of, “Let’s go!”
“A lot of things go through my head,” Jenerette said. “Obviously, leaving Aynor and coming here, wondering how all this was going to work out. And to win 11 games and beat Fort Dorchester, it’s kind of a validation of some things, without a doubt. I’m just really happy for us, our coaches and our community and the school, because there were a lot of doubts about some things around here in April and May.
“And I think we’ve kind of eased people’s doubts.”
Now with Aundres Perkins as the softball coach, Warren Coker as the volleyball coach and Daryl Jarvis as the West boys’ basketball coach, they now have a bar to match.
Jenerette set it.