Turning the page – Blue Flame looking for fresh start under PHS grad Boggs


By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PICKENS — In what could only be described as a nightmare season last year, Pickens finished 3-8, losing to region rival Wren in the first round of the State AAA playoffs.

Several suspensions, many key injuries and an assistant coach getting arrested during 08-19 Page 1B.inddthe season were some reasons why everyone is ready to turn the page on last year and fully focus on this season.

In as new head coach is former Blue Flame player John Boggs, who has previously been the head coach at Walhalla and at Westside and served as an assistant last year under former PHS coach Chad Seaborn.

“I think a year ago, I don’t think in one single year that I’ve seen so many things that all happened at once,” Boggs said. “Just an awful combination of things, but last year is last year and this year is this year. These kids have been moving forward since we got into offseason conditioning and weights and made a good commitment of what we asked them to do. We’re just anxious to get going.”

Pickens scrimmaged at Greenville with Eastside, at Greer with Abbeville and played Christ Church in the Foothills FCA Jamboree at Daniel and Southside and Travelers Rest in the Easley and Pickens Jamborees. That was on top of a busy summer competing in the 7-on-7 passing leagues.

“It’s been a productive summer,” Boggs said. “The kids have worked hard. It’s just been sporadic. With kids on vacation, you don’t have everybody together. You’re selfish and you want to have your whole family together. When you’re missing a couple of kids, you don’t feel like everyone is together. Going into the preseason, getting everybody back together, having everybody here every day, the kids have worked hard. We’ve made a lot of strides in a short amount of time trying to teach and get everything in and work on both sides of the ball. With us playing week zero, we’ve been working special teams trying to get all of that in. I’ve been pleased with their effort and their commitment so far. “

Boggs takes over for Seaborn, who resigned following the season, giving the former player a chance to take the reins at his alma mater. Boggs had a successful run at Walhalla before taking the Westside job, but he was let go after just two seasons there and came on board as Pickens’ defensive coordinator last season.

“I think in the back of your mind (coaching at your alma mater) is always there,” Boggs said. “As you move on in your career and go later on, you kind of think it’s never going to happen. It really wasn’t thought of the last 10-12 years. The opportunity presented itself like it did, and already being here helped out because I already knew the kids having worked with them last year, we were able to get rolling in the offseason and not really having a transition. (It was important) being able to get our staff together, getting things together, where if you were somewhere else, you would have to take days off to get things done. Being here, we were able to go straight to the weight room and get things done.”

The Blue Flame will have several linemen back to count on. On the offensive side, four starters are back in seniors Renny Croley, Jeb Kelley and Trevor Gillespie and junior Dorian Butler. Defensively, two linemen return in senior Tyler Gravely, playing his fourth year on the varsity and starting for a third year at defensive end, and senior Ridge Clark, starting a second year at nose tackle.

“We’re pretty deep on both sides of the line,” Boggs said. “I’ve had lines where we had more talented individuals, but as for depth from top to bottom, having a lot of kids, they have been more productive.”

Gravely had two sacks in the jamboree against Christ Church and can also play on offense.

“Tyler Gravely is tough. He’s physical. He plays a hundred miles an hour all the time,” Boggs said. “If we had about 31 of him we would not lose very many football games. He’s a winner in every aspect. He does things the right way. He’s small, but he certainly plays a lot bigger than he looks. He’s a tough kid.”

After a successful season on the junior varsity and as backup on the varsity, sophomore Tanner Stegall will take over at quarterback. The Blue Flame will still try to be balanced with juniors Aakil Sitton and Brandon Batson vying at tailback and senior fullback Gunner Covey.

“I think we’ve got good leadership this year,” said Covey, playing his fourth varsity season. “We’ve got a good freshman class coming up. Our team is coming together more than last year. We actually do stuff as a team and not as individuals. We’ve been working hard in the offseason and in the weight room.”

Covey will play fullback and long snapper on special teams, and either defensive end or outside linebacker on defense. Covey is garnering interest from Western Carolina, The Citadel and North Greenville.

“I’ve got to figure out which way I’m going to go,” Covey said of his college choice.

Covey is embracing being one of the leaders on the team.

“It just seems like yesterday I was playing with my brother (Mason) and all the older guys,” Covey said. “Now he’s off in college, and I’m one of the older guys teaching the younger guys how to play. It’s different, but I like taking on the role of a leader.”

Offensively, the Blue Flame will try to be balanced.

“We spent the spring working on our running game and we spent the whole summer working on passing game in 7-on-7s,” Boggs said. “Trying to mix it all together and get that happy marriage during preseason going into scrimmages has been the big thing. Even though we’re similar philosophically, we still changed the system, changed the number and changed the way we called things, on the offensive side especially.”

Catching passes should be seniors Matt Gravely and Adam Thomas, along with juniors Kirkland Gillespie, Isaiah Ferguson, Drew McConnell, Chad Bayne, Sam Lawson, Logan Lusk and sophomores Daniel Hooper and Jamal Blythe. Senior Clay Adcox will start at tight end, challenged by senior Corbin Hinkle. Covey and Cole Seaborn could play there as well.

Other starters along the offensive line are senior Brandon Culpepper and possibly freshman Braden Gravely. Junior Hudson Burgess will look for playing time when he returns from injury.

“We’re still a 3-4 on defense and pretty much the terminology is still the same,” Boggs said. “We hired Jabo Burgess from Easley to be the defensive coordinator. That’s been a plus, and he just fit right in. Of course, his dad (Joe) was a Pickens graduate. He’s got ties here, too. For the most part, the staff stayed intact. We had to shuffle some guys to different positions. That’s been a plus, as it has kind of energized everybody, and they’re excited about learning and moving forward.”

Sophomore Bryson Capps and junior Tanner Stewart will battle at one end position, while Kelley will provide depth.

At linebacker, inside positions will be manned by Seaborn, a junior, senior Will Reynolds or senior Trevor Gillespie. Outside backers will be either junior Jared Pace, senior Matt Gravely or junior Jensen McLeroy.

In the secondary, junior Robert Jones and junior Kirkland Gillespie will try yp hold off the challenges of junior Logan Lusk and sophomore Jamal Blythe. At the corners, Blythe, senior Adam Thomas, Lawson, Bayne and Sitton lead the way.

The kicking chores will be in the capable hands of Matt Gravely, a senior who played in just two games a year ago. He gives the Blue Flame a weapon kicking the ball.

“He’s done a great job and had a great offseason,” Boggs said. “He’s had some great camps, and he’s got Harold (Alexander) coaching him. When you have Harold Alexander in your back pocket coaching your kickers and punters, that is kind of like having an ace in the hole.

“Matt has a strong leg, an NFL-type leg. He’s also playing outside linebacker and receiver for us. He’s been one of the most committed kids the whole off-season. He kind of changed his ways in the classroom and is doing a good job there.”

The Western AAA will again be one of the toughest in the state. Boggs said the goal is to contend with the upper half of the region.

“What Coach (Russell) Blackston and those guys did at BHP a year ago with all of those young guys is probably the best coaching job they’ve done as a staff. Those guys will be right back having everybody back,” Boggs said. “Seneca has everybody back, and they’ll probably be preseason favorites by a lot of people. Wren has done a great job every year that Jeff (Tate) has been there. Randy (Robinson) and those guys at Daniel never seem to have a down year. They lose a kid and they just reload. Till someone knocks those guys off, they’ll always be in the mix at the top of the region.

“The rest of us are trying to battle to get in that group. That’s been what it has looked like the last few years fighting for playoff spots. We want to be in the conversation at the top of the region, not the bottom of the region. We’ll continue to work and take things one at a time. Our focus since we took over has been week zero. When that one is over, we’ll move on to week one. Till then, we’re focused on week zero and getting ready for Easley.”

When they open the season this Friday against the Green Wave, the Blue Flame will be trying for their first win over Easley since 2010, the last game in the rivalry at Bruce Field.

“The next one is always huge,” Boggs said. “That would be a good one, because it’s the opener. You hear about winning the opener, and that’s the one you’ve got all that time to work on. You focus on beating them, and your goal is to beat them, but your focus is on making yourself better. We just have to look at what do we need to work on to get better every day in order to accomplish our goals and move on down the road.”