Thursday, October 10, 2019

Riding a four game winning streak under first year head coach Lafayette Stewart, Fox Creek's players and coaches are making the most of their Fridays... and Saturdays too

Left to right: Nick Williams, Blake Shealy, Ryan Chavous, CJ Tillman and Jadon Johnson (Fox Creek)


After dropping a pair of games to begin the season, Fox Creek has run off four consecutive victories, and last Friday night the Predators earned their first region win since joining in 2018 South Carolina's class 2A, region 2, which first year coach Lafayette Stewart calls "the SEC West" of the Palmetto State.

Fox Creek knocked off Ninety Six 17-7 on the road Friday to improve to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in region play ahead of this Friday's road game against defending state champion Abbeville. Sophomore quarterback Jadon Johnson threw two touchdown passes to senior Jatonious Butler in the victory, and running back Ryan Chavous continued to pile up rushing statistics with 179 yards on 27 carries.

Jatonious Butler (Fox Creek)

In a recent conversation, coach Stewart praised his offensive coordinator, Cam Epting, and his defensive coordinator, Brett Johnson, for steering their units in the right direction during the current winning streak. Chavous's eye popping rushing numbers (11 touchdowns and just under 800 yards in the last 5 games) can be traced back to a move Epting made in the second half of Fox Creek's 21-14 overtime win over McCormick in week 3.

"Early in the season we had a couple fourth-and-inches or third-and-shorts we didn't get, so we implemented a goal line package," Epting explained Monday before the team's practice. "That really propelled us. It led us to a couple victories. It's not a closed book. This thing's open. We're adding to it every week."

Johnson also made adjustments on the defensive side of the ball to help spur the current winning streak. After surrendering 777 total yards and 11 touchdowns in the first two losses combined, Fox Creek has given up only one touchdown and 313 total yards in the last two games combined.

"We had a rough first two games defensively," Johnson said Monday. "We knew we had the right players on the field. What it's come down to in the last four games is getting them in the right position."

Coach Stewart's focus on "the next level"




In addition to the recent success on Friday nights, coach Stewart has brought to Fox Creek a methodical approach to exposing his players to opportunities to play college football. A scroll through the Fox Creek Twitter feed (see above) will reveal a series of Saturday trips to some of the highest profile college football games in the nation.

A small subset of the players who have been making unofficial visits to college games described their trips to me Monday afternoon. Quarterback Jadon Johnson watched from the sidelines as Georgia took on Notre Dame, and Clemson hosted Texas A&M. Johnson has also been to games this fall at South Carolina and Georgia Tech.

"What stood out for me was the environment of just being there, and being around a huge crowd there." Johnson answered when I asked him what it was like to be on the sideline for Georgia's home game against Notre Dame, which set a Sanford Stadium attendance record. "And having everyone looking at you, and noticing you, and the feeling that you get being on a visit at a big time college."

Nick Williams, a 6-4 and 300 pound sophomore tackle, also attended the games at Georgia, Clemson and South Carolina. And seniors Blake Shealy, CJ Tillman and Ryan Chavous have been to games at UNC Charlotte, Mercer and Furman already.



Watching college games up close and talking to the coaches and recruiting coordinators during the visits are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But such trips are part of a much larger process that Coach Stewart describes in the interview above. As he explains, the process begins with awareness on the players' part, which is facilitated by communication between the coaches and families of the players. Then comes the necessary academic achievement of the players, the attending of recruiting camps during the off season, the performance on the field during the actual season and an ongoing shepherding from somebody like Stewart, who has distinguished himself early in his coaching career as somebody who takes a special interest in facilitating his players' goal of graduating with the necessary skills and academic requirements needed to attend and graduate from college, while at the same time playing football on Saturdays!

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