Carlton Terry has a piece of advice for opposing coaches scouting his defensive line.
“Teams shouldn’t have to worry about those guys,” Terry said. “They’re small, and they’re slow.”
Fat chance anyone will believe the Conway football coach.
The Tigers front four could easily become one of the best units in the state by the time the 2019 season comes to a close. Ends Tonka Hemingway and Tim Shelton and tackles Andy Jordan and Tate Finklea tip the scales at more than 1,000 combined pounds and yet move more like linebackers.
There’s a good possibility all four will be on college rosters a year from now, but the core of the Conway defense is also why most educated observers know Terry’s team is much better than the 3-7 record it put together last fall.
“We have a lot of potential and talent, but we weren’t connected. It took too long,” Shelton said of the 2018 season that ended in the first round of the state playoffs. “But there was talent everywhere.”
Save for a few key departures, most of the best parts of Conway are back.
Two other defensive starters, cornerbacks Zyere Green and Zikeim Weaver, will also return while a handful of first-year starters move into top spots.
Offensively, projected quarterback Carlton Terry Jr., will be flanked by returning multi-dimensional running back Xavier Kinlaw and experienced receiver Chris Dewitt and Quancey Bennett, not to mention five linemen who have all seen significant time in the trenches already.
The hope is that the offense can pull more of its own weight this year.
“We put the defense in some terrible positions,” Terry, the team’s third-year head coach, said. “Not being able to move the ball and going three and out, we left the defense on the field too long. If we could have scored a couple of points or extend a couple drives, the outcomes would have been different in several games.”
Specifically, narrow losses to North Myrtle Beach and Nation Ford to start off the season did Conway zero favors. And then, after blowout losses to Sumter and Hartsville, Terry’s team entered the month-long flood-related delay at 0-4.
It ended up winning three region games, and if it can perform closer to that level at the beginning of this season — something most people expect will happen — flipping the record or even more is entirely possible.
If nothing else, this certainly isn’t a team that lacks confidence.
“I got faith in my teammates,” Shelton said. “I don’t care what anyone else says — I think we’re going to show out.”
Terry can appreciate that.
After all, he knows that his team won 27 combined games in the three previous seasons leading up to last year. In his mind, it was the anomaly, not the norm.
He’s had time to break down what went wrong, and to get past some of critiques he heard along the way.
“They pay their $7 to make the comments they want to make in the stands. As coaches, we have to take it,” he said. “The true fans and people who know the game of football know we were close.”
Conway’s chance to prove it isn’t far away.