Nov 23, 2012
Over time the Garner Trojans have become known for their rushing attack.
Behind guys like Raevon Smith and Nyheim Hines, the Trojans have rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and 55 touchdowns this season, but this is far from a one dimensional offense.
"We still feel like we've got to be able to run the football to set up our pass," said Garner head football coach Nelson Smith.
Passing the ball is something the Trojans have felt comfortable doing this season with senior Vince Jefferies under center. In fact, Jefferies passed for five touchdowns last week against Leesville Road, tying a school record. His favorite target is Armani Lanier, who caught three of the five touchdown passes against the Pride.
"Our passing with Vincent and Armani has been real good for us, and the other receivers," said Smith.
Jefferies took over the starting quarterback role last season after the expected starting quarterback – Lemond Johnson – moved to Florida.
"I actually talked to Lemond and knew he was going to make the move to Florida, so he told me then I had to step up and take control of this team and take them under my wing," said Jefferies.
Jefferies grew up in Garner, played Pop Warner football in Garner, and always wanted to play football for the Garner Trojans. Becoming the starting quarterback wasn't something he took lightly.
"It was definitely a lot of pressure coming in last year," he said. "I just felt like everything was all on me and thrown on to me, and I think I handled it pretty well, but this year I feel a lot more relaxed and confident."
The coaching staff tries to take some of that pressure off the quarterback.
"We tell our quarterbacks all the time, 'We don't expect you to win the game, we just expect you to go out there and execute the game plan,'" said Smith. "I've seen [Jefferies] grow each year and he understands what we're trying to do. He knows the receivers, he knows the routes, and he studies film pretty good."
Garner assistant coach Eddie Gray works with the offense, and he has noticed the growth of Jefferies as a quarterback too.
"Vince has become a student of the game. He's picking up on making reads in terms of making plays," said Gray.
As the starting quarterback for the Trojans, Jefferies has an impressive 29-1 record, making him the winningest quarterback in Garner history. The only blemish on Jefferies' record came in the state championship game last season, and now the Trojans are just one win away from the state finals again this year. For Jefferies and the rest of the seniors at Garner, they know a loss now would mean the end of their high school career.
"The only thing we have on our mind is that taste of defeat last year in the state championship," said Jefferies."We don't want this to be our last game... As juniors we tasted it a little. We tasted defeat for the first time and we really use that as motivation to keep pushing."
Any night could be the last night for Smith as well. Earlier this year, Smith announced he would retire from coaching at the end of the season, and the players at Garner would love nothing more than to send him out on a positive note.
"It would be great," Lanier said. "Once he told us in the summer that he was going to step down and be the [athletic director] we were kind of hurt and crushed, but he knew that it was his time to do that. We just want to send him out with a really good season."
Smith tries to not think about the end of his coaching career, insisting he seldom gives it a thought. But after beating Leesville Road on Friday night, his wife reminded him.
"My wife last week had some tears in her eyes, I said, 'What's wrong with you?' after we won the game, and she said, 'Next week will be your last week here coaching,'" Smith said.
Friday night Garner will host Jack Britt in the 4-AA Eastern Regional Final. Regardless of the outcome, it will be the last game Smith ever coaches at Trojan Stadium, and it will be an emotional night for Smith, his family, and the Garner community – win or lose.
"I started thinking a little bit about it that time, but most of the time I don't give it much thought," said Smith. "It's all about the team and it's all about what they have done and I'm proud to have been a part of it."
The Garner program has become one of the premiere programs in the state, and the proud feeling is shared with the players.
"My dad told me when I was in middle school, 'You're going to Garner because of the tradition, because of how they play football there, the tradition, and how good the school is,'" Lanier said.
"I love this team, the town, the school," said Jefferies. "We don't want the last 48 minutes to end, we want to gain another 48 minutes, so by going out there and winning on Friday our reward is another 48 minutes."
When Garner plays Jack Britt on Friday, they'll be playing for one last 48 minutes in the state championship.