High School Sports

Keenan tries to make a new name for itself

Matt Johnson is one of the state’s best defensive lineman in the upcoming class of recruits. He has already been tabbed as a candidate for the Army All-American game. But he does not have a locker in Keenan’s locker room.

None of his returning teammates have lockers, either.

That is the prerogative of incoming coach Mitchell Moten, who takes over the Raiders after two years as an assistant at Fairfield Central.

“It’s just upping the expectations,” Moten said. “We’ll evaluate the guys after spring practice and decide who gets to go into the varsity locker room for the next season.”

The players, nearly two dozen of whom return from a 3-8 season, had a variety of reactions before spring finished up Tuesday.

“They were a little shocked. Some of them were even ticked off. I expected that,” Moten said.

He figured the Raiders would understand his point. Many, like Johnson, did.

“I kind of like that,” Johnson said. “It made you understand that no matter who you are or what you did last season, no spot is guaranteed this season. It put a little spark in people.”

Keith Winston, a senior who will likely play at safety or outside linebacker, was a little more worried about the new coach and his new methods.

“It made me think hard because there’s a lot of players out here trying to take my spot,” he said.

Winston also wondered how his playful personality would jibe with what he thought was a no-nonsense approach by Moten.

Through spring practice, Winston’s efforts to secure his spot have not gone unnoticed.

“What he’s doing, he has been a pleasant surprise for us,” Moten said. “I’m just trying to bring a workman’s attitude to the program, so that when the guys are here they put their hard hats on and go to work out there.”

Moten’s intention is to turn the Raiders into a top-notch Class 2A team.

The Raiders’ three wins in 2007 were the most the squad has had since 2001, when they went 4-7. Keenan’s last winning season was 1994, when it went 7-4.

Moten said the attitude adjustment will go toward increasing the Raiders’ success. Keenan has a fair amount of talent and athleticism on defense with Johnson, Winston and Arthur Goforth, who can play several positions. And senior Marvin Poole is expected to make an impact at receiver, Moten said.

He also has faith in his assistant coaches, such as defensive line coach Marlon Taylor, a Benedict alum, and linebackers coach Darien Hutcherson, who played for South Carolina.

“It seems that all the coaches command respect, and so far they’ve been getting pretty good response,” Johnson said.

Moten’s plan of turning the Raiders into a contender is often met with blank stares, sarcasm and condescension — but not from his players.

“I always felt like we should be winning more games,” Winston said. “I think we can actually pull this off is we become disciplined and listen to our coach.”

“I tell the guys, it’s going to feel that much better when you’re playing in late November and nobody expected you to be there,” Moten said.

Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.