The 2018 season ended the same for the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes as the previous two, with head coach Tom Knotts and company holding up the 5A State Championship trophy. The final score was indicative of the way most of the season went, as the Silver Foxes ran over many of their opponents.
As the team celebrated that night at Williams- Brice Stadium, it would have been tough to imagine Dutch Fork not being heavy favorites to repeat once again as state champions, but so far this season it has been far from smooth sailing for the three-time defending 5A champs.
During the offseason, star running back Ron Hoff moved to Texas, and Knox has been frustrated by less than stellar performances by his team, particularly from the offensive line and secondary in preseason scrimmages.
“We haven’t had a very good spring or summer,” Knotts said. “We aren’t hitting on all cylinders like I thought we would be. We have some decent talent, so we’ll see if we can come along.
“Our offensive line doesn’t seem to understand how to pass protect, and I don’t understand what’s going on with the secondary. We have some quality guys, some guys with Division 1 offers.”
Knotts didn’t even have much in the way of praise for two of his stars, quarterback Tyler Olenchuk and wide receiver Jalin Hyatt. After a recent scrimmage against Greenville, he said neither has improved much. Olenchuk has spent most of his time with baseball, but he still has major arm talent according to Knotts.
Hyatt has been dealing with a hip flexer strain that left him unable to do much throughout the spring and summer. Knotts adds that while they are still really talented players, they are just not where he thought they would be at this point in the season.
Wide receiver George Schodowski was targeted a couple of times during the Greenville scrimmage and could be another option.
Outside of the offensive line development, another major storyline is if running back Jon Hall will be able to replace the production lost with Hoff’s departure. Hall rushed for 844 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. He sustained an injury early in the Greenville scrimmage but was seen later walking along the sideline. A.J. Knight will back up Hall.
While the Dutch Fork offense lit up scoreboards last year, the defense quietly put together a solid season giving up only 10.1 points and 168.8 yards per game.
Defensive ends Josh Hair and Edward Owusu and defensive tackle Trey Irby took first team reps during the Greenville scrimmage. At times the defense looked as stingy as the one that gave up less than 83 yards rushing per game lasat year.
John Epting highlights the linebacking corps, while E.J. Grigsby will try to help the secondary improve.
Knotts and his staff still have plenty to work on, but expectations will not soften heading into 2019. This program has become the standard bearer since the 5A classification came into existence. With Olenchuk and Hyatt back on offense, it’s hard to imagine that Dutch Fork will struggle to score points.
Even if that happens, Nick Pelham’s defenses have consistantly been tough to score on.
The schedule remains challenging and opens with a highly-publicized game against Mallard Creek (N.C.) that will be televised on ESPN. Then the Silver Foxes play a young Spring Valley team and an Irmo squad with a new head coach. After that, a home game against Boiling Springs is followed by road trips to Blythewood and Northwestern before region play begins.
Based on last year’s results, Dutch Fork will probably not get tested by its region foes.
When the playoffs begin, the expectations will kick in as well. Can the Silver Foxes return to Williams-Brice stadium for a fourth consecutive year? Is Dutch Fork the nearly invincible team it has been? Since 2014, the Silver Foxes are 62-8.
All those questions will be answered later, but for now there is some intrigue as the three time defending 5A state champions start 2019.
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