Everything’s coming up roses these days for Ken Tucker and the Wagener-Salley football program.
Even two months after the War Eagles fell in the first round of the playoffs to Blackville-Hilda, honors are still rolling in for Tucker and his players.
After posting an 8-3 record for the program’s first winning season since 1995, three War Eagles were named to the South Carolina Football Coaches Association Class A All-State team.
Santrale Moore, Malcolm Stroman and RJ Tyler were all honored for their fine play. To top everything off, Tucker was named the Palmetto Champions Class A Upper State Coach of the Year.
Tucker said the honors – specifically his coaching award – were a sign of how far the program has come. Over the prior eight seasons, the War Eagles posted a 17-66 record, last making the playoffs in 2004.
“It means a lot, and I think it means a lot to our program,” he said. “We’ve had a lot more success this last year than we’ve had.”
Wagener-Salley principal Pat Keating said the success is a result of a group effort.
“I think Ken and the coaches and the players and the families have made a tremendous commitment to the team,” he said.
Keating went on to say that the victories on the football field have “changed the culture” at the school overall. He said that the whole school has responded to the confidence the football team built this past season.
He attributes the positive vibes to Tucker’s ability to interact with the players in a way that’s only possible at smaller schools like Wagener-Salley.
“First off, he has an affinity for small schools … where the relationships with the student-athlete goes well beyond coach-player,” Keating said.
Before taking over at Wagener-Salley, Tucker was the head coach at Class A Latta and an assistant at Williston-Elko, Midland Valley and Lake City – which is currently a Class AA competitor.
He echoed Keating’s sentiments that Class A-sized schools gave him an opportunity to develop closer relationships with “kids, faculty and the community.”
“Obviously, you get to know everybody at the smaller schools,” he said.
He’s gotten to know his three All-State selections. While the trio’s stats are impressive, Tucker was quick to point to their character off the field.
“They’re three outstanding young men,” he said.
The stats can’t be completely ignored, though. In his first year as the War Eagles’ starting quarterback, Stroman threw for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for more than 600 yards and 13 more scores. He also intercepted three passes with two returned for scores and returned a kick for a touchdown.
Tyler, a tight end on offense, was his leading receiver with 20 catches for 354 yards and six touchdowns. Tyler also recorded 66 tackles and a team-best five sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a defensive end. Moore was an anchor on both lines, recording 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.
Another thing that stands out about the three stars is that they’re all juniors. Joined by the team’s second-leading rusher from 2012, Eric Corley, they form a nucleus of returning players that will give the Wagener faithful even more reason to be confident. Corley finished the year with 843 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground, and he also had two scores in the return game.
Tucker’s enthusiastic about the players he has coming back in 2013 and said the team eagerly met the start of spring workouts this week.
“We’ve got 25 coming back from this year’s team, and we’re excited about getting back,” he said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.