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BOILING SPRING LAKES — A winless 2013 football season has given some South Brunswick seniors a winning attitude as the 2014 season begins.
New coach Daniel Finn praised the leadership of three seniors, which includes quarterback Cole Blackburn.
“During practices he’s making our kids do things they should be doing when the coaches aren’t available,” Finn said. “He’s been a very pleasant surprise for us.”
Tight end/defensive end Malik Douglas is leading by making the most of his skills — he has committed to N.C. State University, Finn said.
“He’s not a vocal leader,” Finn said, “but we really need him to lead by example and to things the right way, to give maximum effort.”
The vocal leader, Finn said, is receiver/safety Hunter French, another college prospect.
“He’s very passionate about football,” Finn said, “and he’s trying to get the kids excited and motivated to be happy that they have the chance to (play football).
“So, we’re really looking up to those three kids.”
Finn said he has been disappointed with the inconsistent number of players at practice — a troubling trend he said probably would last until school starts. It could be 65 one day and 50 the next, he said.
“You find out really quick out of the guys who were in the program last year which ones want to do this the right way,” he said. “It puts us way behind. You’re planning on kids in certain positions and then they’re not here.”
But Finn has been encouraged by the dedication of senior offensive linemen Kenneth Adkins, Brandon Ballard, Malik Hill, Colby Hill and Gabriel James. Their weights are 250 to 275 pounds, Finn said, and “they’re strong.”
“They have been to practice,” Finn said. “They’ve worked. When you’re trying to build a program, you start from the inside out. Hopefully, we can hang our hat on those guys.”
As to why the Cougars were winless last year, Finns said what he and his staff “found (at South) was that they didn’t really buy into what it takes to be a championship football program.
“There are a lot of people around here who enjoy playing football but they don’t really know what it takes to be dedicated and to have the passion and the work that it takes to get to that (championship) level.”
Finn has an extensive coaching background at the high school and collegiate level. He was a graduate assistant for three years at East Carolina University, during which time David Garrard led the Pirates to two bowl games.
Finn was an assistant coach at Conley from 2001-03, and an assistant coach at J.H. Rose High School from 2003-04. Finn was the head football coach and head men’s track coach at D.H. Conley from 2004-06. He was the head football coach at Southeast Raleigh from 2006-11 before becoming athletics director in 2011.
“It was a good job,” Finn said about being the athletics director, “but it really didn’t make me happy. I was happy being a football coach.”
Although many may see challenges at South, Finn sees an opportunity to instill community pride.
“I was looking for that community where 90 percent of the town shut down and came to the game,” he said. “This program has had success. It just hasn’t been sustained.”
In rebuilding a program that was winless last season, Finn revamped the football staff.
“You have to surround yourself with good people that have the same ideas and philosophies and work ethic that you have.”
Toward that end, Finn hired Kamelio Johnson as his defensive coordinator. Johnson is a South Carolina State University graduate, where he was a student assistant for three years for the football team. He was an offensive coordinator for nine years in Georgia. He was the head coach at Knightdale High School and worked with Finn for three years at Southeast Raleigh.
Finn said he likes how Johnson prepares for games.
“Coach Johnson is very methodical, watches a lot of film, really tries to outthink our opponents,” Finn said.
Johnson said Finn is a coach who can adapt to game situations.
“He’s always prepared and he’s always cool under pressure,” Johnson said. “He’s very astute at managing a game.”
“We do a good job of adjusting to the talent that we have,” Finn said. “In games, if something is not working, we’re thinking a couple of steps ahead.”
The football season opens Friday, Aug. 22, and Finn and Johnson will get a chance to test their philosophies at Wallace-Rose Hill, a team Carolina Gridiron ranks No. 3 in Class 1A.
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 22, at Wallace-Rose Hill
Aug. 29, St. Pauls
Sept. 5, at Pender
Sept. 12, at North Brunswick
Sept. 19, South Columbus
Sept. 26, Ashley
Oct. 3, at Laney
Oct. 10, West Brunswick
Oct. 17, no game
Oct. 24, at Topsail
Oct. 31, New Hanover
Nov. 7, at Hoggard