After years of struggling for recognition in the football happy state of South Carolina, one small announcement made North Greenville the most talked about football team around for a few brief days.
Former Byrnes High School star quarterback Willy Korn's career never took off at Clemson and things did not work out after he transferred to Marshall. With two years of eligibility remaining, Korn contacted North Greenville coach Jamey Chadwell about playing for the Crusaders.
"You'd think the president was coming," Chadwell said on the day Korn announced his decision.
"I think it says a lot about the university and how we're trying to develop our football program. And I think it says a lot about him wanting to have an opportunity to be a part of our program."
Because of his late arrival and North Greenville's early start (the Crusaders open Saturday at Mars Hill), Chadwell said it probably will take some time for Korn to work his way into a lineup that is thin at quarterback.
"We'll see how he develops," Chadwell said. "The thing that's going to be hard on him is he learned an offense at Clemson, then went to Marshall for a summer and now he's got to forget all he learned at Marshall and try to learn our offense in two weeks. The challenge is going to be hard for him, but I expect him to figure it out and let his ability take over and compete for the position."
North Greenville had a pair of experienced QBs returning when the Crusaders began spring drills, but Richard Harb and Aaron Seigler both went down with injuries. Korn will be trying to overtake redshirt freshman Reggie Lewis (6-1, 185) and sophomore Isaiah Johnson (5-10, 200). Johnson was 0 for 1 last year as a quarterback.
Passing was not the team's strong suit, with the Crusaders averaging only 54.3 yards per game through the air in 2009. Sophomore Sean Wright (6-4, 185), who missed last season with an injury, is the top receiver. Two years ago, Wright had 18 catches for 151 yards. Justin Beasley (5-9, 176, so.) is the top running back returning, having carried 63 times for 243 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns three senior and one junior starter.
"We're going to try to be balanced," Chadwell said. "We run the ball more, because at our level it's difficult to get as many quality receivers and linemen. We'll try to hang our hat on running and moving the chains."
North Greenville lost the bulk of its defensive line, and the Crusaders will be counting on big help from freshmen. Chadwell has high hopes for junior defensive lineman Tyran Melvin (6-3, 245), who the coaches feels like has an opportunity to play on the next level. Senior Jarius Mack (6-3, 265), a two-year starter, returns after missing last season.
Jereme Green (5-10, 185), a junior defensive back out of Summerville, played in nine games last season and had 33 tackles, including 19 solo stops. Linebacker A.J. Jones (6-0, 215, so.) had 32 stops.
"Most of our two-deep are freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. In a short time, we've turned over the whole roster. We have a lot of young guys that are hungry, but we don't have a lot of experience so it's kind of nerve-wracking," Chadwell said.
"We talk to our guys about being the very best they can be for every game. We would love to improve on last year and come out with a winning season."
Scheduling can be a difficult situation for a school such as North Greenville, which competes as an independent. There are a couple of names that jump out at first glance with Ohio State Newark (not the Buckeyes) coming to Tigerville and a trip to Notre Dame College (Euclid, Ohio, not South Bend, Ind.). North Greenville plays seven of its 11 games on the road this season. But Chadwell hopes a scheduling alliance with the South Atlantic Conference next season will make things more manageable.
"We have to play about anybody anywhere," Chadwell said. "We play two Division I opponents, we're playing a Division II playoff team (UNC Pembroke) and Mars Hill which is in the top 20. We are a national Christian college, and the ultimate goal of what we can play for is the Victory Bowl. That's our ultimate goal."