Deptford's hopes rising with Blackiston

Posted: October 14, 2012

Deptford's Mike Blackiston is like all football coaches, not looking too far ahead, taking each challenge one week at a time.

Yet a bye week this weekend gave Blackiston a chance to assess where the program is. In his second year as head coach at his alma mater, the view shouldn't look too bad.

The Spartans were 4-6 last year in his first season, the beginning of what Blackiston hopes is a return to the glory days, of which he was part. This year, Deptford is 3-2 and clearly in contention to earn a South Jersey Group 3 playoff berth.

"If we can make the playoffs in the second year of this staff, that would be phenomenal," Blackiston said.

He actually has grander goals, but understands things have to come in sequence.

People might look at recent developments and not realize what a powerhouse Deptford used to be. Since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974, Deptford has appeared in seven South Jersey championship games, winning four. The Spartans have qualified for the postseason 15 times.

Blackiston played on the 1985 team that lost to Willingboro, 26-14, in the South Jersey Group 3 final.

Deptford was highly competitive as recently as 2006, when the Spartans went 8-2, but then, the team went 7-33 through 2010. Blackiston was hired after that season.

Blackiston has taught at Deptford since 2000. He was also a line coach there for 2000 and 2001 before becoming the defensive coordinator through the 2008 season. After two seasons as an assistant at Cherry Hill West, he returned to take the head-coaching job.

Coaching at Deptford is more than a job for Blackiston.

"When the team was suffering through those tough years, it pained me horribly," he said. "I am black and gold through and through."

And that is why he is hoping to reestablish the tradition. He has had many former great Deptford players come back and talk to the team, again making the current players realize the great success of the past.

And he understands the impact that a winning football program can have on a school and community.

"It's the whole atmosphere, the climate, what football can do for a school and how it feeds to other sports," Blackiston said.

The team is feeling especially good about itself after a wild 35-34 win over Bishop Eustace last weekend.

"After a win like that, you can feel the excitement around the whole school," Spartans quarterback Anthony Parsons said.

One thing that remains just like the old days is Deptford's love for the running game.

Parsons has rushed for 345 yards (5.3 average) and five touchdowns, and fellow senior Jody Ellis has gained 702 yards (8.2 average) and eight touchdowns. Even wide receiver Kevin Lester has rushed for 168 yards (5.8 average) and two scores.

During the bye week, the Spartans went back to a mini-training camp, working on fundamentals. Blackiston wasn't about to let the players get complacent.

The playoffs are a viable goal, but there are three games left until the cutoff date. Deptford entered the weekend with the fifth-highest power rating in South Jersey Group 3. The top eight teams will qualify after the first eight games.

So the Spartans will get down to business, understanding that the program isn't yet at the point at which it can take any opponent for granted. Yet just to be in the postseason hunt has boosted the spirits of a program, a school, and a community.

"We're playing with confidence," Lester said.

And with a great deal of pride.

No doubt it will still take time for the program to duplicate its past success, but the Spartans have taken that all-important first step, the one that signals that a turnaround has begun.


Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter.

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