2023 Football Preview: Union County
The last two years have been tough for the Union County High School Yellow Jackets Football team. With a 1-7 record in 2021 and a 2-7 mark in 2022 the Jackets have had their share of struggles on multiple fronts. From issues with Covid and beyond, the Yellow Jackets have been unable to find the consistency it takes to rack up any wins. 2023 however is a new year, and the Jackets will look to finally return the win column on a more consistent basis.
At any level of football an injury can be devastating to a football team, but in high school football especially at the 3A level and below an injury to one player can often mean you lose two starters, one on each side of the ball. While UCHS coach Brian Thompson won’t play the blame game and say that injuries are why the Jackets have won a combined three games in two years, anyone who follows the program know that injuries have absolutely decimated this team in that time. Last year it was senior quarterback Ben Black who went down with a leg injury that really derailed the Jackets hope for a good season. Black was a more pro-style QB who was looking to make plays with his arm, while the talented running back core gashed teams for big yards. It wasn’t to be.
In 2023 this offense will look different. The Jackets will be a run heavy football team relying heavily on some really promising running backs and an athletic quarterback who will facilitate that run game. The rumor around town this summer is that the Jackets will move to a Wing-T offense for 2023 but Thompson says that is not the case. “Sometimes those rumors start because people don’t really know the difference. They see a certain formation but they don’t really understand what the offense is. A lot of people call a flex-bone offense a double wing, but it’s two completely different offenses,” said Thompson. Thompson said that yes the offense will have a different look this year. “We are going to do some things that we feel like are going to help the personnel we have available be successful. In high school football sometimes you don’t have the personnel to run a 10 personnel every year, that’s what I love about high school football, good high school football coaches can adapt their systems to fit their players.”
This year the Jackets will feature a strong running back group. Thompson said they have three guys in the running back room right now that are really good football players. Junior Jakevious Jennings is described by Thompson as a shorter, squatter body guy with big legs, that is squatting 455lbs and will be called on to do the “dirty work” and can also get in the open field and make people miss. Another junior JaQuan Jeter, Thompson says they feel is a multiple threat guy that they can really put anywhere on the field and he can make big plays. The third is senior Cam Owens, who Thompson believes is a very special player. Owens missed a lot of his junior season with an ankle injury but is now primed and ready to lead this stable of running backs.
The Yellow Jacket offense will start in the hands of quarterback Keyshon Harden. According to Thompson he won the job in the offseason with his hard work, coach-ability, and his leadership. Thompson believes he has the skillset to run the offense the way the coaches want it to be run and will put the Jackets in a position to be successful.
Thompson is also thrilled by the improvement of the offensive line. He said that for the first time in a while the Jackets actually have some size upfront.
However the Jackets are not that big on the defensive line. Thompson says that they have some big kids they can slide in from time to time at nose guard but for the most part the size is not their on the defensive line. The Jackets will have to rely a lot on “activity and effort.” One guy the Jackets will count on up front is defensive end Kendall “Nemo” Brannon. Brannon, who is described as undersized for the position makes up for it in his movement, speed and ability to disrupt opposing offenses. The rest of the defense is made up of some veterans and some new names that will see their first action this season for Union County.
The Jackets will start the 2023 campaign at home against Newberry in week zero. The Jackets knocked off the Bulldogs in Newberry last year. The rest of the Jackets schedule is as tough as always with the likes of Gaffney, Chapman, Broome and of course region foes Clinton and Woodruff.