Finally paying off


2013 Pickens Blue Flame

2013 Pickens Blue Flame

Experienced senior class set to lead Blue Flame in 2013

By Eugene Jolley, Courier Sports

PICKENS — The Pickens Blue Flame have been waiting on this season for a while.

Since seniors Cameron Holder and Mason Covey lined up as starters in the season opener against Easley three years ago, this year’s senior class has been one of great anticipation.

“We have a fairly big senior class that we’re counting on to lead for us and do some things for us,” Pickens head coach Chad Seaborn said. “Some of them have been in the program four years, and some even through middle school with us.

“For them, we want it to be a good year, because they have put a lot of time and effort in. They know how we practice, they know what we expect and it’s obvious in practice how they are doing. Our numbers are up, overall. We don’t have too many that have to play on both sides a bunch. We’re still working some spots there. There are a few we’re counting on both sides, and we’re still trying to get some depth behind those guys. It’s just been something we haven’t had in a while. We’ve been very fortunate injury-wise. There are going to be some bumps and bruises, but hopefully we can stay away from the injuries. They’ve done everything so far that we’ve asked. It’s been a good camp so far this summer.”

The Blue Flame finished 5-6 overall last year, and earned fourth place in Region II-AAA with a 4-3 record. The Blue Flame fell at A.C. Flora in the first round of the state playoffs, but lost just seven seniors.

Back this season for the Blue Flame are players who have a combined 184 starts from last year. A total of 38 returning players, plus two who played two seasons ago, return in looking to lead the Blue Flame to a region title. Half of the 50-player varsity roster is made up of seniors.

Four starters return on the offensive line in senior left tackle Bryson Duncan, senior left guard Alex Dalton, junior center D.J. Roper and senior right tackle Parker Lambright. Senior Dakota Will returns after missing last year with an injury and takes over at right guard for the graduated Casey Stewart. Dalton and Duncan will be three-year starters.

“The new one in there (Dakota Will) has gotten reps in there before and has started some games as a sophomore,” Seaborn said. “You’ve got five guys in there that have been in there for a while and got a bunch of snaps in there, and that is huge. Offensively, that is where it starts with those guys. Their communication, knowing each other, knowing their buddy beside them, is well ahead of where we’ve been in the past. That’s helping us a bunch. With them being able to do that, we’ve been able to speed things up with what we’ve put in and things like that. Having so many players back has definitely helped us.”

The line will be backed by seniors Levi Tallon and Destin Nix, junior Seth Holden and sophomores Renny Croley and Tyler Gravely.

Under center will be sophomore Elijah Turner, who also missed last year with an injury. Last year, Pickens quarterbacks threw for only 483 yards, and the team looks to be more balanced this season. Last year’s starter at quarterback, Mason Covey, moves to tight end. Covey and Turner battled in the preseason last year before the injury.

“We just felt that with him being healthy and knowing the offense, Mason can do it, but Mason can help us at tight end — we can do so many more things with him there,” said Seaborn. “Elijah is a threat to run and throw. Even as a sophomore, he has great leadership qualities. He takes command of the huddle, and they listen to him. They know he wants it. They’re being a team. We know we’re going to face adversity. We know it’s not going to be easy all season long, but right now they understand what it is to be a team.”

Sophomore Gunner Covey returns at fullback after starting the final three games of the season, rushing for 309 yards and five touchdowns on 67 carries. He had also started at right tackle and tight end before finding a home at fullback.

Leading rusher Angus Anderson graduated, so junior Austin Clark starts at tailback after rushing for 275 yards and two scores on 69 carries. He started three games at fullback last year and another two at quarterback. Junior Antron Wakefield (82 carries for 360 yards and nine touchdowns) and junior Jacob Addington also will get snaps at tailback.

At receiver, senior J.C. Baker and juniors Noah Morris, Tanner Saunders and Disean Gowens return. Senior Jacob Peterman also returns at tight end.

The Blue Flame will definitely be more balanced on offense this year after last year’s team was a run-heavy squad.

“That was definitely the goal after last year,” Seaborn said. “Coach (Sam) Wyche wanted to get involved again, and we definitely wanted to use that as much as we can. What a great way to get more balanced in the running game and passing game.

“Having more bodies and being able to play guys on each side, not having to play them both ways, we can go at a faster pace and do some of our no-huddle and faster stuff. It’s kind of all come together. We’ve got a long way to go with that. So far, they’ve gotten better each day. We’ve had tough practices through the rain and one day when it got hot. Everything, hopefully, is falling in place for us.

On defense, the Blue Flame return two starters at end, three at linebacker and two in the secondary.

“We’ve got six or seven on that side that have gotten significant snaps,” Seaborn said. “That helps because you’re not doing as much teaching and defense. They know the terminology and are doing a good job making the calls. Tanner (Saunders) kind of worked his way towards safety at the end of last season. He’s doing a great job there for us. We want to be able to free up Mason some if we can, and he’s an asset at corner and on both sides of the ball. And we’ve got some guys pushing him some too. We’ve got some guys returning, and that helps on both sides of the ball with your depth and competition. They know what we ask of them and they’ve responded so far.”

At end, seniors Peterman and Hayden Wheeler return, with Gunner Covey spelling them. At tackle, senior Zach Roper and Gravely look to start, with seniors Lambright and Will backing them, along with Croley.

“Both coach (Bart and Brett) Turners are doing a good job of rotating and getting a good look at them,” said Seaborn. “Zach Roper has moved from outside linebacker to one spot. Pound-for-pound, Zach is one of our strongest guys on the team. He’s quick and strong down there. He didn’t mind the move and said wherever it helps the team. He’s down there doing a good job. Tyler Gravely, a sophomore, has had a good week there. We’ve got Parker Lambright that can come in there and help us and Dakota Will can help us some there.

“We’re trying to get five offensive linemen and four defensive linemen, and if we can keep those guys fresh that will help us tremendously. Those young guys are getting reps and picking it up. We’ll eventually settle on some, but they’re doing so well right now that we’ll keep rotating them in there.”

At linebacker, Holder returns for a fourth year starting. Wakefield starts for a third, and junior Dalton Yates takes over for Charlie Parris in the middle after starting three games last year. Senior Koryo Gassman returns at the other outside position after starting eight games a year ago. They’ll be backed by juniors Harry Kloth, Jacob Addington, sophomore Trevor Gillespie and seniors J.C. Baker and Luke Broadwell.

In the secondary, junior Tanner Saunders moves from corner to safety. He led the team with five picks last year. Senior Justin Francis and Mason Covey, along with sophomore James Ferguson battle at corner, backed by junior Joseph Aiken and senior Alex Hester. Francis and Covey can also play safety.

“We’re still trying to find the right guys back there,” said Seaborn. “Tanner Saunders is doing a good job for us at safety. Justin Francis has some experience and is getting a little bit more comfortable. That other one, Mason Covey can do it and we’d be fine, but he’s so vital in other areas. If it’s crunch time, Mason will probably be in there. We’re trying to find some other guys that can get some snaps for us. If Mason needs a break, we’ll move somebody around and they’ve got to be ready. We’re still looking to find some guys that will fit back there.”

Two starters return on special teams in Mason Covey at punter and sophomore Matt Gravely at kicker. Gravely started the playoff game last year and kicked a 44-yard field goal and had two touchbacks. Pickens kickers were 3-for-3 beyond 40 yards last year, but missed all four attempts inside of 40. Matt is the brother of former Blue Flame and current North Greenville kicker Justin Gravely. There is a new long snapper in Gunner Covey.

“Those Covey boys can do all of it,” Seaborn said. “It’s good, because I guarantee you the last guy he wants to make mad is the guy he’s snapping to. He makes sure Mason gets good snaps. Those two put more pressure on themselves than we do. It’s great not having to worry about that. I say it every year, but coach (Harold) Alexander does a great job with our special teams, snappers, holders and punters. Matt Gravely has been under the weather some but has had a great spring and summer kicking the ball. I can’t wait to see how good the guy is going to be.”

Pickens had a rather odd preseason. The Blue Flame scrimmaged with Wade Hampton for two hours plus and were scheduled to scrimmage Ninety Six, but that scrimmage had to be cancelled due to the Wildcats scheduling six preseason events, with only five allowed. Pickens also lost a game to the weather against Seneca in the FCA Jamboree. The Blue Flame did beat Westside 20-0 in a half at the Easley Jamboree and beat Walhalla 14-0 in the Pickens Jamboree.

“We were still sloppy,” Seaborn said after the Easley Jamboree. “That was our first jamboree. We had one last week rained out. That was our first jamboree, and you could tell with some penalties and turnovers. Overall, they’ve responded well. Each challenge they’ve been faced with, whether the first practice, the first scrimmage, or the first jamboree, they’ve responded well.”

Notes: Last season, the Blue Flame were either good or lucky with the opening coin flip winning 9 of 11. They won six of seven coin tosses on the road.