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Bench to guide AJ football

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By Robert Howey

Robert Howey

rhowey@thelancasternews.com

KERSHAW – A small-town atmosphere and a football program with “a ton of potential” are key factors that attracted Andrew Jackson High School’s new head football coach, Elmer Bench.

Bench, a Manning native, was named the Volunteers’ 10th head football coach Friday when he was approved by the Lancaster County school board upon recommendation by AJ Principal Mary Barry.

“Andrew Jackson High School is one of the coveted jobs in Class AA football,” said Bench, who comes to AJ from Class AAAA West Florence High School, where he served as the Knights’ defensive coordinator last season. “This is a situation you would be glad to have.

“Andrew Jackson has always been right there,” he said. “I feel lucky to have the opportunity to get in this community and make a difference in the lives of these young people.”

Bench, selected from a field of more than 85 applicants, stressed the small-town atmosphere.

“This is a unique situation,” he said. “Andrew Jackson is different. The support is here and they play a good brand of football. I’m a small-town guy and this is a good fit for me and my family.”

Bench, 33, replaces Louis Clyburn, who coached AJ last season when the Vols went 5-6 and earned a Class AA Upper State first-round playoff berth. Andrew Jackson highlighted its season, smashing 25 offensive school records and posting its best finish since 2004.

Clyburn resigned April 17 to become the head

football coach and athletic director at North Central High School. Ron Blackmon, a Heath Springs native, resigned as the Knights’ head football coach and athletic director on Feb. 18.

Bench was one of 10 candidates who went through the initial interview phase and the field was pared to three who returned for a second round of interviews with the nine-member interview committee, which includes administrative members, teachers, former coaches, booster club members, community members and an athlete.

Reeves, a member of the interview committee, noted several factors that made Bench the top choice for the job.

“Coach Bench is down-to-earth and a hard worker,” Reeves said. “He’s very thorough and he will not get outworked. He works well with the students and athletes.

“Coach Bench is a player’s coach,” Reeves said.

Bench, who will teach in the AJ social studies department, is a 1999 Clemson University graduate, where he started four years for the Tigers. He also has a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina. Bench is also qualified as a certified administrator.

In 10 seasons of coaching on the high school level – nine at Manning High School and one at West Florence – Bench has amassed an 86-33 record working with the programs. In nine seasons at Manning, the Monarchs won four region championships and finished as the runner-up the other five seasons.

Last season, the Knights finished 7-4, placing third in region play and earning a Class AAAA playoff bid.

Bench, who met with the AJ coaching staff Friday afternoon, plans to return Monday to begin the Vols’ spring practice.

“There’s a lot of expectations for next year at AJ,” he said. “We want to go into every game with the chance to win. Coach Clyburn did a good job last year in getting things going here and we want to keep that going. To have 85 apply for the job here speaks volumes about how its regarded across the state.

“Over the years, I’ve had my eye on this program,” he said. “I’ve seen AJ on film and they’re a team that’s in the game until the fourth quarter and something happens. We’re going to work to change that.”

Bench is married to the former Susan Aycock of Manning. The Benches have three children, a stepdaughter, Sara Rogan, 14, and two daughters, Anna, 8, and Elana, 6.