'It's like Christmas':  High schools across Lowcountry hold first day of football practices

By David Shelton Special to The Post and Courier: July 28, 2017

West Ashley High School head football coach Bobby Marion gives his players instructions during practice Friday Morning, the first day of practice for South Carolina High School League Teams.  (Brad Nettles/Staff)


High school football practices began for most schools across the state with players, coaches and fans everywhere believing “this" is their year.   Schools in the South Carolina High School League could not practice before Friday, but SCISA schools opened camp on Thursday.

First Baptist got a jump on every team in the state by starting practice on Monday. The Hurricanes were allowed to begin early because their season opener is Aug. 12 in Alabama. For the second consecutive year, First Baptist is starting its season ahead of everyone else in the state.

First Baptist is the only defending state champion in the Lowcountry, winning the SCISA Class AA title last November. While the Hurricanes are again the favorite in their division, head coach Johnny Waters says 2017 is a new season.

 “Winning the first-ever state championship in school history was a great experience but we haven’t talked about 2016 since June 1st,” Waters said. “Our goal is to build a program that can contend every year. We don’t want to be a one hit wonder. We want these expectations. We don’t want a team. We want a program.”

 Senior linebacker Timmy Campbell, the team’s leading tackler last season, says starting preseason practices “makes it real.”

Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad gives instructions to a punter on the first day of practice Friday.  (Roger Lee/Journal Scene)

“Now that we are out here everyday, starting to hit and get after it, it means the first game is right there for us,” Campbell said. “We work all spring and summer, lifting weights and conditioning, for this. I love practicing.”

While First Baptist is seeking to stay on top, two traditional powers in the area are looking to climb back up the mountain.

Since 1983, the programs at Stratford and Summerville have arguably been the top two football powes in the Lowcountry.  Summerville has 333 wins since 1983 while Stratford has produced 290 victories.  However, both programs begin this preseason looking to shake back-to-back non-winning seasons.  Only eight times since the school opened in 1983 has Stratford failed to win at least seven games.  It has happened twice in the last two years after four wins in 2015 and a program worse 1-9 record last fall.  Head coach Joe Marion, now in his fourth season as head coach and his 30th overall at the school, is optimistic about a better season in 2017.  "We do have a lot of pride and tradition and I think this group of guys is determined to bring the program back to where we expect to be," Marion said. "We started with a pretty good offseason.  We felt like team unity and being positive would be very important and I really believe these guys out here want to be here and want to play together."

Joe Call begins his third season as the head coach at Summerville.  Since 1960, Summerville has won less than seven games only seven times.  The Green Wave were 4-8 two years ago and improved to 6-6 last season.  Call, a former quarterback at Summerville, replaced his legendary grandfather, John McKissick, as head coach.  McKissick won an all-time record 621 games in 63 seasons.

Hanahan High School offensive lineman Andre Brewington goes through a chutes drill on Friday, the opening day of football practice for Lowcountry teams. (Rob Gantt/The Gazette)

“It’s been embarrassing, the last two years,” Call said. “To go 4-8 and 6-6, that’s not who we are. That’s not what this football program was built to be about and those are not our expectations. We worked a little harder and worked to be a little more relentless in our preparation during the offseason. We are really focused in on eliminating distractions and playing more consistently.”

Cane Bay is coming off its best season in school history and head coach Russell Zehr is excited to be through the heat of the summer and into “real football.”  “This is like my favorite day of the year for me, it’s like Christmas,” Zehr said. “Everything is brand new and everyone is in the hunt for a state championship. We’re ready to get to work.”