Tom Knotts is entering his fourth season at Dutch Fork, and he has the feeling the Silver Foxes are getting closer to claiming a football state championship.
After losing three of its first five games last year, Dutch Fork ran off nine consecutive wins to reach the Class 4A Division I state title game but came up short against Gaffney.
Knotts is no stranger to winning state titles. He won six at Independence High in Charlotte and owns a 327-69 career record. He believes the Silver Foxes’ program is on the right track.
“I think we’ve got a great body of work to get us prepared,” Knotts said this week. “I feel good about it. We’re about the same position we were last year at this time.”
Knotts again will go through a brutal non-conference schedule that includes the season-opener against Southeast Raleigh Saturday in Myrtle Beach. Dutch Fork also will face Rock Hill, Dorman and Goose Creek in consecutive weeks early in the season.
“I want to play the toughest schedule that we can for when we get into the region,” Knotts said. “I think if we can keep everybody from getting hurt in the non-region it will help us when region play gets here.”
Derek Olenchuk returns to run the offense after having a banner junior campaign. He was 264-for-384 for 3,501 yards and 16 touchdowns in the Dutch Fork quick strike attack. He threw 16 interceptions, a number Knotts would like to see come down. Knotts said Olenchuk has gotten stronger in the offseason and more comfortable in the system.
“He’s an extension of me on the field. He’s the coach out there,” Knotts said. “He has a good understanding of our offense, is very consistent and does a great job running the team.”
Dutch Fork lost All-State performer Jordan Berry. He caught 128 passes for 1,995 yards and 11 scores. Deion Frasier is the top returning wide receiver with 12 catches last year but Knotts felt he filled in well when Berry missed two games because of injury.
Matt Colburn is back at running back after exploding on the scene late in the season last year. He ran for 400 yards in one game and finished with 1,444 yards and 24 touchdowns despite playing part of the season on the junior varsity team.
That gives Knotts’ hope the Silver Foxes will be balanced. They have worked on a lot of different things in the preseason but he believes they have honed it down to the things they do best.
The offensive line is short on experience but Knotts feels good about the talent. Left guard Travis Wiggins is the only returning starter, but the rest of the group played together on the junior varsity team and dominated. Tackles Josh Hutchinson and Caleb Harris are both in the 6-foot-6, 270-pound range. Omar Staley will see time at guard and continue to play defensive end, where he was an All-Region pick last year. KJ Williams and Austin Ruger are standouts at tight end.
“I think our offensive line will gel,” Knotts said. “They have a lot of experience together even though it’s JV experience. They’ve been in the weight room, and we really don’t have many concerns up front.”
Joining Staley back on defense will be a trio of linebackers who are coming off solid seasons. Scooter Roberson, Nick Lusk and Marcus Taylor will be counted on heavily again. The secondary is led by standouts Lane Ecton and Stephen Davis, two players who have All-State talent.
“We’ve struggled on defense in the years we’ve been here but got a little bit better last year,” Knotts said. “I think we can be a whole lot better this year.”