SYLVANIA — What a difference a year can make.
Last season, Screven County didn’t notch its first win of the football season until its fourth game of the season. During that span, the Gamecocks’ offense struggled to move the ball while the defense watched the points pile up.
This season, a new coach and a breakout season by a running back determined to make the most of his final season have the Gamecocks headed in an entirely new direction.
Leading the wave of change is new head coach Ron Duncan. Duncan came to Sylvania from his previous post as defensive coordinator for perennial Class AA power Elbert County and spent seven previous seasons as a head coach in South Carolina. Under Duncan’s leadership, the Gamecocks have quickly gotten back on track.
"I saw Screven County and I knew about the proud football tradition that exists here," said Duncan. "Screven may have been down for a few years, but we have been working hard to get things back to where they should be."
With wins in three of their first four games, the Gamecocks have already surpassed their win total from last season and are looking to make a run at their first playoff appearance since the 2007 campaign.
Screven County came out firing in a 48-0 victory over Groves in its season opener and has averaged just under 40 points per game. The Gamecocks have looked strong in every week so far, but the roots of this new and improved team are set in Duncan’s arrival back in January.
"We have a great group of kids that were willing to buy in to new a new system," said Duncan. "We’re a results-oriented society. People like to see what they’re getting beforehand, but we needed to have faith that all of the changes would be the best thing for us."
For the Screven seniors, that faith meant adopting a new offense for the third time in their four seasons.
Now running a triple-option, fourth-year starting quarterback Aikeem Mingle already looks like a seasoned veteran. Mingle is the team’s second leading rusher and has connected for a pair of touchdown passes while connecting on 50 percent of his throws.
"Aikeem has done a great job adjusting," said Duncan. "This can be a tricky offense to learn and it takes a ton of reps to get things right, but Aikeem has been a good student and a great leader for the rest of the team."
Many times, Mingle has made things easy on himself by simply handing the ball to Jeremy Johnson. The senior fullback is having a career year so far and has racked up more touchdowns by himself than many teams have been able to manage.
Johnson wasted no time in denting the scoreboard this season with a five-touchdown game against Groves. Johnson provided all of the fourth quarter scoring in Screven’s comeback win against Effingham County and found the end zone three more times in the victory over Windsor Forest last week.
Johnson’s 11 total touchdowns and 587 rushing yards are both tops among area athletes.
"Jeremy is a tough guy to bring down. That’s for sure," said Duncan. "He’s a big guy, so a lot of people try to go low. But he has good feet and quickness and can keep plays going."
Now, the Gamecocks turn their focus to their Region 3-AA schedule which begins this week as Harlem comes to town.
Screven has exceeded expectations so far, but the goal of reaching the postseason is a journey that begins this week.
"We preach to the kids all the time," said Duncan. "Just when you think you’ve arrived, the destination changes. Beginning the region schedule is like the beginning of a whole new season. We’re 0-0 right now, and we have to keep improving and progressing if we want to get to that postseason at the end."
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.