After Greenwood High’s fall sports were canceled last month, a mass exodus of top football talent has inadvertently invigorated a rivalry game 50 miles away.
Nine former Bulldogs from last year’s one-loss squad will take the field as transfers — on opposite sidelines for the first time — when Greenville Christian hosts top-ranked Greenville-St. Joseph next Friday night.
Their past five matchups have devolved into blowout victories for St. Joe, the reigning three-time state champs currently riding a 26-game winning streak. This year, though, the Fighting Irish will have to contain new Saints signal caller DeAndre Smith, a top-10 quarterback in the state who led Greenwood to the 4A North state championship last season before capturing MVP honors during the Bulldogs’ basketball title run.
“They’re right down the street from us so we call it a rivalry, but we haven’t really been able to hold up our end of the deal,” Greenville Christian head coach Jon Reed McClendon said. “We hope to be able to do that this year.”
Last season, Smith tossed for over 2,500 yards and 27 touchdowns as a sophomore, adding 15 more scores with his legs. Once he decided to join the Saints, junior linebacker William Stewart-Greer, senior wideout Davaris Pilcher and junior wideout Jaterrious Elam opted to follow in their quarterback’s footsteps 45 minutes away. Ex-teammates Omar Emmons, Davin Anderson, Jarvis Clay, Daylin Metcalf and Jaylen Smith had already transferred to neighboring St. Joe.
Now the familiar faces will be meeting in an environment that figures to be far from friendly.
“It’s going to feel weird but it’s just business,” Smith said. “They’re my dogs for life… I love them but it’s on next Friday.”
Emmons, a free safety, said the decision to transfer was a no-brainer when he found his senior season would be wiped out at Greenwood.
“I felt like I needed another chance to prove myself for my senior year. Going up against my old teammates, it’s going to be a battle. I know how we were raised, you know, we were taught together. But may the big man win.”
Smith, meanwhile, held off from switching schools until he received a text from Greenville Christian assistant Justin Leavy, who coached the prospect back as a freshman at Mississippi Grind summer workouts.
“I was like, 'Wow, he’s a freshman?'” Leavy recalled. “It was natural to him. He was having fun, enjoying himself, and it was so genuine. It brought energy to everybody else, too. That’s the biggest thing about him: He brings a lot of people with him. The energy he brings goes off to other people.”
So far, Smith and the rest of his former Greenwood teammates are fitting in well during their first week of practice at their new private school.
“As soon as they got done with practice, (Smith) did push ups and sit ups and threw the ball for another 45 minutes,” Leavy said. “That lets you know what type of kid he is.”
• Contact Riley Overend at 581-7237 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @OverendOut