How many people thought the Greenwood Eagles would go this deep in the play-offs this year? Not many, especially after an early exit from the playoffs last year. The loss of numerous players to the college ranks, including the number one linebacker in the nation had Dave Pickren saying, "Greenwood is in a rebuilding year." The Eagles had no starters in the season opener against Emerald playing the same position they did last year. Coach Dula was forced to put inexperienced juniors and sophomores in position where they had to become playmakers for the Eagles to be successful. The 2nd game of the year pitted the young Eagles against the powerful Abbeville Panthers(2A). The young defense looked helpless trying to stop the panthers running game, Abbeville threw only one pass and soundly defeated the young team by the score of 35-11. Greenwood went on to lose three of the next four, playing region 2 powers Dorman, Spartanburg, and Byrnes. The lone victory in that stretch was against Aiken. Six games into the season, the Eagles were 2-4.
A lot of people probably wrote the Eagles off, saying, "they are too young, too small, and too inexperienced." I imagine a lot of the Greenwood faithful had begun to doubt the Eagles. But after the Dorman game, you could see improvement. The kids started making plays that they didn't make in the first few games. They were still making too many mistakes against quality opponents to register a W, but the effort was there. You never saw any letdown in effort. I remember some of the Byrnes fans talking about how much heart the Greenwood team had shown after falling behind by the score of 35-7 in the first half. Heart, that is one thing you can't measure in a player. You can put him against the clock to see how fast he runs the 40. You can put him on scales to see how much he weighs. And you can measure him to see how tall he is. But you can't find out how much heart a kid has until he lays it all out on the line. This team has heart. A lot of teams being 2-4, would have packed it up and said, " we are young, just wait until next year," not this team, this team has heart. A lot of teams starting out 2-4 would be happy just to make the playoffs, not this team, this team has heart.
They did not quit; they proceeded to win their next seven games in a row. They believed in themselves and their teammates. I have never seen a group of kids come together like these kids have. In each of the seven games, they have been able to improve by eliminating mistakes on offense and playing tough hard-nosed defense. You can just sit and watch the confidence grow in these kids. The deeper the Eagles advance in the playoffs, the stiffer the competition. Conway certainly is a formidable opponent for the young Greenwood team in the semi-finals this Friday night. All indications are that they have a tremendous running game. Do the young Eagles have a chance to stop Singleton, the powerful RB from Conway who ripped Berkeley for 167 yards on something like 5 carries? And should they be victorious against Conway, they would meet the winner of Byrnes/Mauldin. Do they have the talent to compete? I think they do, they have a first year starter at QB that has become one of the best in the state. Renaldo Gray has surpassed the expectations of many Greenwood fans. As Coach Dula said at the beginning of the season, "Renaldo may well be the best QB I have ever coached." And Coach Dula has had some good ones, Mark Logan and Sam Williams to name two just in the last three years. Renaldo has lived up to that pre-season billing, passing for over 2250 yards and adding another 560 yards on the ground. But more important than the yardage is the leadership that he has provided to this young team. The former two-year starter at tight end has improved each and every week running the offense. Greenwood has no dominant running back, but several led by Zearrick Mathews can take the pressure off the passing game. Greenwood has quality receivers led by Ansel Scurry, Mario Norman, and Travis Talbert. They give Renaldo multiple targets when he takes to the air. Several of the receivers and running backs also see a lot of playing time in the defensive secondary. The offensive line has become a solid unit, giving Renaldo time to throw and opening holes for the backs. The defensive line and linebackers have gelled as a group and play defense the way it is designed to be played, with a lot of determination and desire. They really "fly around" out there. Oh, and the kicker, Jad Dean is pretty good also. Something like 48/55 kickoffs for touchbacks. I don't think anyone in