The young and the inexperienced: Darlington filled with youth as it looks to rebound from last season
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
Darlington – This might by year three of the John Jones era at Darlington High School, but it is only year two in the rebuilding process.
After a first year that saw Jones inherit a football team with more than a few capable seniors, including quarterback Frankie Johnson, who appeared to be tailor-made for his no-huddle, spread offense scheme, the Falcons basically had to start from scratch in year two and it showed.
In Jones’ second year of guiding the Falcons football team, Darlington went an unflattering 1-10 overall, but despite the abysmal record it was able to finish fourth in the region after its only win of the season over Lakewood and therefore make the playoffs.
During last season there was an influx of youth as Jones and his staff worked to intermingle it with the remaining veterans that were left from the previous regime.
This year there will be even more youth according to Jones, as Darlington’s successful, mostly freshman junior varsity team is now one year older.
“There are a lot of young guys,” Darlington head coach John Jones said. “I believe there will be anywhere at any time on offense three to four freshman, nine sophomores sprinkled in for playing time and the same thing on defense, except there won’t be any freshman on defense, but there won’t be but two seniors.”
With as few as two seniors projected to be starters on both offense and defense, there is bound to be a learning curve as these young players become more acclimated to the speed of the game at the varsity level and the larger playbooks for both offense and defense.
“You try to get ahead of the game, but we didn’t have that opportunity with the youth level we got so we had to slow it down a lot more,” Jones said. “So as far as our installations and stuff it took a lot longer to get stuff installed than what we wanted and this time next year we will probably be 100 miles ahead of where we are right now today with this group.”
Despite having so much youth on his roster, leaving so many questions unanswered at the moment, Jones, as he has done since arriving at Darlington, is not backing away from setting the bar high for his expectations.
Most will chalk up Jones expectations as simply “coach talk”, but to Jones it is more than that. It is about believing in his team, in his coaches, in his system and in what the future holds.
Darlington is much more talented this year than last and that is no knock on any of the players last year. The thing about that talent is that it is very young, raw and for the most part overly inexperienced when it comes to varsity play.
These factors will show their ugly face in the early parts of the season and there is a high probability that they will cost the Falcons a game or two, but there is also a high probability that they learn from them, grow from them and become better football players because of them.
“The biggest thing for us is right now is our young guys,” Jones said. “We have got to get them into a position where they completely understand the system frontwards and backwards and very comfortable on the field where they can play real fast, not have to think a lot and just grow up in a hurry.”
Darlington’s regular season consists of 10 games; starting off with six non-region games and finishing up with four region games.
By the time the Falcons take the field on September 29 at home against the Crestwood Knights they will be a completely different team from when they started the season.
Players will have matured, coaches will have adapted to the team’s strengths and weaknesses and an identity will have been established.
Does all of that equal a region championship like Jones expects? Not necessarily, but you cannot win one without that combination.
Right now region championship talk is just that, talk, but by the time November rolls around Jones hopes that it becomes reality.