EDEN — Sometimes, the best things in life come unexpectedly, but that’s not the case for Victory Christian’s high school football team.
The Class 1A playoff-bound Lions (6-4) will face Pickens County (8-2) on Friday night at 7 at G.S. Spruill Stadium in Reform, but some of the younger, hungrier contributors on this squad don’t see themselves as overachievers.
“I expected that we were going to do really good this year, better than last year, because last year, we weren’t really fundamental,” freshman tight end/linebacker Cameron Cheatwood said. “This year, with Coach (Bruce) Breland, I feel like we’re really getting the hang of it and working as a team better than ever before.”
Victory Christian’s squad features just six seniors, but Cheatwood said they’re seniors that can be counted on to guide the younger players down the postseason path.
“I think all of our seniors are leaders,” he said. “Motivating me is my brother (Pate Cheatwood), who is also a senior. I just want to make him proud of me and be like him.”
Pate Cheatwood, donning a blue cast on his right forearm, said he has been playing with a broken thumb since the Lions’ 21-14 victory over Winterboro in Week 6, a win that ultimately served as a deciding factor for this team getting into the postseason. The tight end/safety finished the game despite the injury.
“It’s a mental thing” he said. “You’ve just got to push through it.”
Senior running back Lee Yeager carries the load not only for the Lions’ ground attack, but he also hauls his fair share when it comes to being a leader. Yeager, who lost part of his junior year due to a shoulder injury and has dealt with it again his senior year, draws inspiration from his teammates giving their all despite not being 100 percent healthy.
“Eventually, I had to be like, ‘Alright, I’m going to play my senior year.’ I had to toughen up,” Yeager said. “The doctor side of it, they’re going to say, ‘Football is dangerous. You’re going to get hurt,’ but hey, Pate came out here in a cast.
“It depends on how bad you want it. You can either stay off the field and stay in a sling, or you can find a way to get back on the field, which clearly Pate has definitely done that, and any other (injured person) out here would do the same.”
Victory Christian’s most recent postseason appearance occurred in 2015, a run that ended with a 46-14 loss in the second round to Berry Fayette. Yeager said it’s great for the program to be back in the postseason.
“Me personally, I’ve never had a playoff experience in football, so being my senior year, it’s kind of a sentimental thing to get to go,” he said. “Everybody’s worked hard all summer, and it’s good to see our hard work starting to pay off a little bit.”
The Cheatwood crew has ties to that 2015 playoff team by way of genetics. Cameron and Pate’s older brother, Harrison Cheatwood, served as a catalyst for that postseason run. Pate said he hasn’t picked his brother’s brain about the postseason or for advice.
“Not really,” Pate said. “He really just lets me play how I play. He always tells me when I do good and critiques me always, but he lets me just play.”
When asked if he ever gives his younger brother a hard time in terms of ribbing or light-hearted pranks, Pate laughed it off.
“He’s bigger than me, so it’s hard to sometimes,” Pate said.
Freshman center Ayden Rogers, in his first season with the varsity squad, pointed to Yeager as the senior who has most impacted him.
“I would have to say Lee (Yeager) because he tries the best to make sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing when they need to be doing it, and he picks them up the most,” he said.
Rogers is part of a young nucleus of talent that includes freshman quarterback Dalton Lewellyn. The center said their relationship and rapport continues to grow with each game.
“We aren’t that close, but we’re getting closer,” Rogers said. “I do everything I can for him, and he tries to do everything he can for me.”
The younger Lions enter Friday’s contest with an aura of optimism.
“I just hope everyone does their best,” Cameron said. “Hopefully, we can get to the second round and keep going.”
Rogers echoed the younger Cheatwood’s sentiment.
“I really hope we can do the best we can and everybody puts forth what we can,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”
Yeager’s desire for the playoffs, which the elder Cheatwood replied was his goal as well, is a bit more bold.
“I want it real bad,” Yeager said. “It’s great to get to the playoffs, but you go to the playoffs for a reason. We all want the same thing. We want to end the season on a win and we want a ring. We want it pretty bad.”