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A pattern is already developing in South Charleston's games, and it's not one that pleases coach Donnie Mays.
The Black Eagles come out blazing, but somewhere around the middle of the second quarter, they start to fade a bit. Rejuvenated by halftime, they begin a slow decline again, however, in the fourth quarter.
It happened two weeks ago against Parkersburg in the Mountain State Athletic Conference Grid-o-rama, which is set up much like a regular game, and it happened again in the season opener at George Washington last Friday.
Lack of depth is largely the underlying reason for the tapering off, especially now during the warmer part of the season. But one of the factors for that lack of depth can get Mays a bit hot under the collar.
Roster comparisons by the Gazette-Mail indicate that South Charleston lost at least eight experienced players from last season's team, seeing them transfer to other schools. Many of those players sure could have come in handy as SC navigates a difficult MSAC schedule.
Those departed include receiver-defensive back Nathan Barham (Hurricane), quarterback-defensive back Javante Elzy (Riverside), receiver-defensive back Carlito Carter (Cabell Midland), lineman Andrew Preast (George Washington), the trio of running back-linebacker Orange Dyess, running back-linebacker Zhantei Calloway and receiver-defensive back Dameon Robinson (Nitro), and receiver C.J. Allison, a two-sport standout who transferred to the basketball program at Wesley Christian in Kentucky.
Dyess was the No. 3 tackler on SC's defense last year as a junior. Barham was the team's second-leading receiver and Allison was the third-leading receiver.
"Like I've said before, we're not very deep," Mays said. "We've got about 50 kids in and eight of them have got to get a few more practices in before they can get out there.
"Every year, it seems like the same thing — we've got young kids. I'd like to challenge any coach in the [Kanawha] Valley or anywhere who wants to play young kids like we're always doing, and we're still right there."
Against Parkersburg, SC was moving the ball well and trailed just 14-6 midway into the second quarter. By halftime, however, it was 27-6 and ended up 41-6. At GW, the Black Eagles trailed 17-14 at the midpoint of the second quarter (and had another touchdown called back by penalty). But they fell behind 24-14 at halftime and lost 45-30, which included a late consolation TD.
"It's a sad epidemic that's going on," Mays said of the mass transfers, "but it's not an excuse. We're going to play with what we have, with the guys who want to be Black Eagles, and we're going to fight until the end, and that's what we did [at GW]. I'm not happy at all, but there are circumstances to what we're going through."
And it's not just a one-year exodus within the SC program. Last year, the team's No. 1 returning receiver, Curon Cordon, transferred to Hurricane and had a stellar senior season, and then-sophomore linebacker-quarterback Bryce Damous left for Huntington, where he's now a senior tight end-linebacker and a Division I prospect playing at an All-State level.
Mays wouldn't cite specifics or reasons for any of the player moves, but it's left him generally fed up with the situation.
"I'm tired of people recruiting," he said. "I'm sick and tired of people recruiting. It's annoying. But I'm here for these guys, and these guys that stayed on this football team are here because they love South Charleston football, just like I do. And all those other coaches going after kids and stuff like that, it's sickening. It's not what high school football's all about."
By the time the end of the regular season arrives, the Black Eagles will have met at least five teams where their former players wound up — GW, Huntington, Riverside, Hurricane and Midland.
In the opener, GW's Preast on defense had two forced fumbles, a quarterback sack and another tackle for loss against SC. Elzy didn't start at quarterback, but finished as Riverside's top rusher in a 21-6 loss to Woodrow with 110 yards and his team's lone touchdown. Barham caught a 25-yard TD pass.
Mays, though, is determined to see things through as South Charleston seeks its sixth straight Class AAA playoff berth.
"When teams pluck kids from you," he said, "and you keep playing young kids, and you keep fighting and fighting to grow, I don't know what else to say. The guys who stay at South Charleston know what we're about.
"I had a kid tell me — a senior and it's his first time out — that he has mad respect for the things we've done, and that meant more to me than anything I've done in the last seven years, because there are kids who get spoiled sometimes and whenever somebody tells them the grass is greener on the other side, they jump."
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