By: Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
The 2021 incarnation of the Woodruff Wolverines football team took to the field for the first time on Monday, May 10, kicking off spring practice with renewed excitement and optimism for what the players and coaches will be an exciting season.
With 15 starters returning from a young 2020 squad that advanced deep into the 3A playoffs during a season shortened by COVID-19 precautions, Woodruff is deep, talented, and expects to win. Returning players are brimming with confidence and know what it takes to win.
“It’s a new season and new team,” said rising senior and three-year starter Jailen Tribble. “It’s good for us to be able to get out here and bond with one another.”
Tribble, a two-way starter at defensive back and wide receiver, is one of the team leaders and knows how to motivate his teammates. A third-round playoff loss to Wren last year, he says, is a motivating factor.
“I think we could be really good,” Tribble said. “We have a lot of excellent players coming back. I think playing Wren taught us a lot and showed us what we have to do to go even further.”
Woodruff returns starting quarterback and rising junior Carson Tucker, who passed for 1,580 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while completing 65 percent of his passes. Mathias Dial is a big returning target for Tucker at wide receiver, standing 6-feet-4 inches tall. Cooper Lee and Jacob Abreu return on an offensive line that is bigger, stronger, and deeper than in the previous season. They will pave the way for talented running back Damarian Elmore, who takes over for the graduated Shamare Dendy.
Defensively, rising sophomore Rashad Reid returns to anchor an experienced defensive line. Reid was among the team leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks a year ago as a freshman and will also play both ways as he joins the offensive line. He will be joined by returning starters in safety Tae Goggins, linebacker Luke Runyans, Tribble, and Elmore, who are two-way players as well.
Head coach Bradley Adams has been looking forward to spring practice and summer seven on seven passing competitions, a luxury Tucker and company did not have last year with the South Carolina High School League canceling all out-of-season practices and competitions in the wake of statewide COVID restrictions.
“Not just for me, but for this whole community, you are about to see a really talented quarterback,” said Adams. “His whole mindset and how he does things has completely changed, and he is coaching the players now. A lot of times we call him Coach Tucker. He steps in, and he coaches the players up for us.”
Elmore, who rushed for over 400 yards and several electric touchdowns last season, says learning from Dendy and understanding the tradition of Woodruff football are parts of a recipe for success that he hopes translates to a lot of wins when the season starts in August.
“We’re keeping the tradition going,” he said. “Shamare taught me a lot of things about how to play running back. I plan on keeping that going and keeping the tradition going from all of the great running backs at Woodruff.”
Elmore added, “This is a great team to go to battle with. If we push ourselves and motivate ourselves, then we can get past that third round of the playoffs and make a run for a state championship.”
Adams likes the vibe of his team and feels like this group of Wolverines has the mindset of winners. It is also tentatively expected that Varner Stadium will be at full capacity for fans this season as virus cases continue to steadily fall across the state and country, adding even more reason for optimism.
“The biggest thing with this group is their attentiveness,” Adams said. “They are focused and tuned in, they pay attention to what we ask them to do, and they don’t do things on their own. That is a big deal for us (coaches). I’m probably more relaxed than in any year since I’ve been (at Woodruff). This is just kind of our team, and we as coaches really enjoy working with them.”