Easley Green Wave

Wave ready to roll

Numbers, expectations high for Easley entering 2016 season

By Rocky Nimmons

EASLEY — Led by first-year head coach John Windham, the Easley Green Wave finished 2015 with a winning season at 6-5, but a 3-4 region finish forced the Wave to miss out on the Class 4A playoffs.

As a new year begins, expectations are high as Windham’s Green Wave have had more than 100 players working hard in the preseason, readying themselves for Friday night’s season opener at rival Pickens.

“We will dress about 60 on Friday nights,” Windham said early this week. “We have a good group. I am excited. We have had a great preseason.

08-17 Page 1B.indd“In football you only have 10 opportunities, so each week is like a season. You have to pour everything into it. Hopefully we can just pour ourselves into it and enjoy playing and get some good results from it,” he said.

The Wave will take the field in 2016 with more than 20 seniors, with most having already seen action at the varsity level.

“We’ve had good practices, and I’m pleased with everything we’ve been getting,” Windham said. “We’re looking forward to playing Pickens this Friday. We have a good class of seniors, and they’ve been working hard. A lot of them contributed last year as juniors. They’ve been providing a lot of good leadership and are doing a good job.”

Windham was able to keep his coaching staff intact through the offseason and even added three new coaches in Gary Wilkins, Jay Bagwell and Chris Stone.

“We kept everybody on staff. We did have a couple of new teacher and coaches come on board,” Windham said. “Gary Wilkins, who played over at Furman, came in to help with the defensive line. Jay Bagwell, who was at the middle school, is helping us and so is Chris Stone, who played at Clemson and Furman. I think they will make an impact. They are doing a good job.”

Perhaps the biggest difference the Easley team will face will be the new region line-up that all classifications will battle this season. Easley was moved up to the new 5A classification.

“It is exciting to be in the new 5A — it will be great competition,” Windham said. “South Carolina high football is so strong. Playing in its top division is challenging and exciting, for sure.”

The biggest difference for the Green Wave is that travel to away games has vastly diminished — no more going to Laurens or Greenwood. This year’s road games will see Easley traveling to Pickens, Daniel, Seneca, J.L. Mann and Westside.

“I think the original thing was the travel time and the distance between everybody,” Windham said. “It was done to make it so there was less travel for everybody. That will cut down on some of our travel time.

“But the new conference still has some good competition in it. We are looking forward to our new region, for sure.”

The Wave will still play some traditional rivalry games in the preseason.

“I know our guys, playing Pickens, Daniel, Wren and Seneca, those are all considered rival games. I think they will be fired up to play those guys,” Windham said.

With the new alignment allowing extra non-region games against Belton-Honea Path and Greenville, Windham added the Green Wave won’t have any walks in the park this season.

“You can’t overlook anybody — you have to play the best you can every game,” he said. “Hopefully when it is over, you have done enough to win the game. You want your team to play better and better each week, and when you get to the region games you are playing your best football.

“We scheduled some traditionally tough teams in the preseason. Some are the local area teams, but they are good teams. Our schedule is tough. We have some very good competition.”

Easley is starting the season with all of its key players healthy. Notable players to watch this year, according to Windham, include 6’0″, 185-pound running back Will Drawdy, 5’10″, 160-pound wide receiver Tyrese Bradley and 6’1″, 180-pound wide receiver/safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner. Windham pointed to 5’10″, 250-pound defensive tackle Craig Barksdale and 6’1″ and 218-pound middle linebacker Caleb Hill as keys defensively.

Windham said it will be business as usual for the Easley offensive and defensive units.

“You always lose some people in high school to graduation, but we have some guys back that have played a good bit in certain positions,” he said. “It is always a good mix when you have some veterans and young players.

“Everybody has to play well. Offensively, Tanner Semones, Luke Foster, Braydon King have to play well on the line. Bralan Fuller at wide receiver, and Will Drawdy and Eric Phillips in the backfield all have to step up. Our quarterback, Weston Black, is just sophomore, but Weston is doing well.”

Defensively, Windham said look for Faulkner to make an impact at safety.

“Up front we have Craig Barksdale, and Caleb Hill at linebacker all have had a really good preseason,” he said

Windham said the staff is still working on special teams and hoping to get some good work in this week.

“We are still trying to get that ironed out, for sure,” he said.

Windham said preseason performance is not always a reliable indicator of how a team will be by the end of the season, but he has high hopes for the Green Wave this year.

“I have had teams I thought were pretty good and they have not been,” he said. “Then other teams I didn’t and they just gelled and came together at just the right time. We have a chance to be a team that all the Easley faithful can be proud of.”

But as good coaches know, the atmosphere that his team plays in each Friday night is key to keeping the players excited and plays a big role. Only the Green Wave faithful fan can control that.

“It is huge to have a big crowd at the games to support you,” Windham said. “Easley is a football town. On Easley Friday nights we expect a big crowd. The support has been great. I hope it continues, and I am sure it will. It also feels good to be on the road and see all that green in the stands. I know I feel that way and I know the kids do.”

Windham is counting on his team bringing a workmanlike attitude into the season.

“I just see our kids competing hard and playing hard,” he said. “They will keep learning what they need to do, and that is really all you can ask. Just give your best, and that is what we ask of them every day. I feel confident that they are going to do that and that it results in some wins that they can enjoy.

“They just need to do their best and let the chips fall where they may.”

The chips will start falling this Friday night as the Wave head a few miles up the road to battle perennial rival Pickens in the annual Meals on Wheels Food Fight Bowl, and there will surely be plenty of green in Blue Flame Stadium to cheer on the big Green Machine.