Flame get better in Boggs’ first season

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PICKENS — Although the season ended with a disappointing 4-7 record, the 2015 campaign for the Pickens Blue Flame football team was one of improvement.

Tommy McGaha/Courier Pickens senior Gunner Covey will be one of the Blue Flame’s greatest losses heading into next season after lettering for four seasons and leading the team in the ground game.

Tommy McGaha/Courier
Pickens senior Gunner Covey will be one of the Blue Flame’s greatest losses heading into next season after lettering for four seasons and leading the team in the ground game.

The Blue Flame got better each week, won one more game than a season ago and again made the state AAA playoffs. With the abolition of the eight-quarter rule this season, there was little depth for Pickens, as all 25-26 varsity players played a good bit each game.

Next season, Pickens will move to Region I-AAAA with Greenville, Daniel, Belton-Honea Path and Wren.

The Blue Flame will return seven starters on offense, and four starters will be back on defense.

“We’ll have a lot of work to do along our interior on our offensive and defensive lines,” first-year Pickens coach John Boggs said. “We’ve got some good groups coming in from the JV and good young kids coming from the middle school. We’ll start working them hard in the weight room and try to develop them. The ones that commit and dedicate themselves and are there every day, we’ll do our best to try and make them better.”

Returning on offense will be sophomore quarterback Tanner Stegall, who passed for more than 1,100 yards this year with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Junior tailback Brandon Batson will also return after rushing for almost 400 yards.

The three starting receivers — juniors Kirkland Gillespie, Isaiah Ferguson and Sam Lawson — will all be back in 2016. Ferguson led the team with 21 catches and five scores.

Two offensive linemen will return — junior Dorian Butler at tackle and freshman guard Braden Gravely. Butler missed the playoff game but will enter next season as a three-year starter. Gravely started 10 games.

On defense, junior linebacker Cole Seaborn will return after leading the team in tackles. Three starters will return in the secondary, with junior Robert Jones at strong safety, sophomore Jamal Blythe at free safety and Lawson at cornerback. Jones picked off three passes this season.

Key reserves returning include Jarred Pace, who started some at outside linebacker and backed up Stegall at quarterback. Bryson Capps, who had starts at defensive end and linebacker and also ran the ball at fullback, will also be back. Junior receiver-cornerbacks Drew McConnell and Chad Bayne will return as well, and coaches are hopeful junior lineman Hudson Burgess can come back after missing this season with injury.

The Blue Flame will say goodbye to several four-year lettermen, including fullback-outside linebacker Gunner Covey and defensive end Tyler Gravely.

Pickens will also have to replace Shrine Bowl kicker-punter Matt Gravely, who also started at outside linebacker, where he was third on the team in tackles and tied Jones for the lead in interceptions.

Gone along the offensive line is center Jeb Kelley, who started for two years, guard Trevor Gillespie, another two-year starter, and Renny Croley, who started for two years at tackle and also came on to start at defensive end. Nose tackle Ridge Clark, who had a big year, also departs after starting for three seasons.

Starting linebacker Will Reynolds will also graduate, as will cornerback Adam Thomas, who broke up 11 passes and also picked off three passes.

Other key players departing due to graduation are linemen Brandon Culpepper, who made one start and had some injuries this season, and defensive back Logan Lusk, who battled injuries this season but will be remembered for a two-interception game at West-Oak last season. Tight end-linebacker Clay Adcox also departs after missing most of the season following an injury suffered against Liberty. Defensive end-tight end Corbin Hinkle, a pass-rush specialist, will also be gone next season.

“It’s a good group of seniors,” Boggs said. “It’s always hard at the end of the year to see a team go, because your whole team dynamic changes. You get a whole bunch of guys and they work hard and begin to put things together way back in January-February and through the summer with the offseason stuff.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together. It’s family. You hate to see when the seniors graduate and you know they’re moving on and you’re happy for them. You just hope in some small way that the time you got to spend with them will make a difference in their lives. They’ve been a good group.

“It seems like yesterday we were meeting at Pizza Inn breaking up our teams for summer workout groups and doing our draft. They’ve done a good job. They’ve showed up and played hard every week. They practiced hard every week even after the losses, they bounced back and had the right attitude and were ready to go. They’ve been fun to coach. There are some years when you get to the end, there are some groups you are glad to see go. This is certainly not one of those groups. This group has been a lot of fun to be around every day.”