Strait Herron spent the 30 minutes before South Pointe’s first football practice of 2018 screwing facemasks to helmets, something that would have been done earlier in the week if the helmets hadn’t come back late. Herron, who has coached the Stallions to five state championships in seven years, was in scramble mode.
No worries. His two lieutenants, offensive coordinator Jason McManus and new defensive coordinator Drew Anthony, were ably handling things on the field.
At first glance, it was a very South Pointe-like first day. There were complications, but everything ended well. If that’s how this season goes, Herron will again end it standing on the Williams-Brice Stadium field in Columbia, grinning.
The Stallions won their fourth consecutive state title last December, completing a 15-0 campaign that ended with a top-10 national ranking and a reasonable claim to being one of the most dominant high school football teams in South Carolina ever.
South Pointe became the fifth public school in state history to win four straight state titles, joining Dillon, Byrnes, Christ Church and Woodruff. Woodruff won five titles in six years, from 1975 to 1980, but no school in South Carolina high school football history has ever won five in a row.
Many folks paying attention to high school football across the state doubt the 2018 team can make that happen. The lack of faith -- outside the program -- in this team is one of the many differences from the 2017 group.
“I think it’s important that everybody know, including our players, that we aren’t the same team,” said Herron. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t win, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a better team than last year’s team. That’s one thing we’re trying to preach, the chemistry. All of us having each others’ backs is going to be very important for this team.”
There are plenty of characters ready to emerge from the shadows of their predecessors, and also new faces on the sidelines, including Anthony. The Massachusetts native gives South Pointe two coordinators with college experience. Anthony helped launch Limestone College’s program in 2014, and spent last year at a junior college in Miami.
Herron had dabbled with the idea of calling the defense during the spring, but realized it was too much work to add to his already full schedule. That led to Anthony’s hiring just before summer.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. “It’s not hard to figure out why they’re successful. It’s a pretty special group of coaches and people.”
Herron was instantly impressed by Anthony’s resume, but also by the simplicity of his defensive scheming, which only took 15 minutes to explain. Anthony, who went to the University of Virginia primarily as a student, but later played several seasons of arena football, takes over a defense that has plenty of talent, despite graduating a number of starters and three FBS college football players.
“We’re gonna be aggressive,” said Anthony. “We’re blessed to have tremendous players and we want to let them make plays.”
The 2018 Stallions don’t have the safety net of Derion Kendrick’s ad-lib abilities at QB, or the rocket launching right leg of kicker B.T. Potter.
But it’s South Pointe football, so the cupboard is never bare. Seniors Joe Ervin and Jaylen Mahoney are already FBS commits, while center Jackson Chappell will likely be an FCS-level college football commitment by the end of the season. And as always, there are a dozen or so sophomores and juniors that will flourish with increased playing time.
“I’m just as confident in the people we have now as we did last year,” Chappell said after the Stallions’ spring scrimmage in May. “These boys coming in are gonna step up and do what they need to do.”
While the 2017 team was saddled with huge expectations of winning another championship, the 2018 team has been yoked with public doubts that it can do the same. That’s the one thing last year’s team didn’t have: doubts, a clear and pulsing source of motivation that may prove just as valuable as the talents of the departed seniors.
“We’ve got a good group of guys that are leading this team. They’ve heard all the talk,” said Herron. “They know people have already counted them out, so that’s good for us. Those guys, the leaders, take it to heart.”
The Observer is previewing all 16 teams in its preseason Sweet 16 poll. The order will be revealed before the season kicks off Aug. 15.