Yellow Jackets hit the road to S.C.

Aug. 21, 2013 @ 06:44 PM

Lee County’s football program had 28 seniors leave it after reaching the second round of the 4A state playoffs last November. Yellow Jacket head coach Burton Cates says this team enters the season as the youngest he’s coached in his 40 years leading prep programs.

When the Yellow Jackets take a long bus ride Friday, visiting Spartanburg Christian Academy in South Carolina for both sides’ first game of the season, the Yellow Jackets will be the more experienced side.

Spartanburg Christian introduced football two years ago and will be fielding a full varsity squad for the first time Friday night. The Warriors have an eight-game schedule in front of them with two home games out of the eight.

Lee County was originally scheduled to lead off against Ben L. Smith in Greensboro. The game was moved to week two, Aug. 30 in Greensboro, so another tough road trip is in line for the Jackets next week. The schedule change left Lee County without a game for the opening Friday and every other North Carolina school had their Aug. 23 booked, Cates said.

“So we went on the internet and found a game,” Cates said.

Spartanburg Christian was a closer partner than potential opponents in Florida, and with a young team, Cates didn’t want to let the first week of the season go by as a bye.

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“This season, we need 11 games. We need as much game experience as we can get,” he said.

The Yellow Jackets were 9-4 overall last season and 6-2 in their last Tri-Nine run. The Jackets, however, move into the 3A Cape Fear Valley Conference fielding no returning starters on offense and three on defense.

The Jackets, returners and varsity rookies, have worked hard throughout the offseason, Cates said.

“We have confidence in these kids to do very well,” he said.

At the same time, an offense full of seniors, some who were key contributors for three or four years, can be coached differently than a much younger group.

“We simplified the offense some,” Cates said. “We’re scaling back some things, trying to make what we’re doing as simple for them as possible. We’ll play to the strengths of the kids we have.”

A very different roster leads to changes, but no excuses, Cates said. The Yellow Jackets have five non-conference games to improve instead of the three being in the Tri-Nine allowed; another positive side effect of realignment for the Jackets.

“Offensively, we found out a lot (last) Friday (in Lee County’s scrimmage at Asheboro),” Cates said, “and we’ll find out more as the season goes. Our kids want to do well and that’s the big thing.”