Fort Mill High is doing it up right.
One minute after midnight tonight, the Yellow Jackets will charge onto their football fields for their version of Midnight Madness. The coaches will make sure their watches are showing the correct time. Practice in South Carolina can officially begin July 29 for the state's high school teams.
In past seasons, Midnight Madness was a tradition at Clover, complete with Blue Eagles' apparel for sale, concessions and fireworks. This season, first-year Clover coach John Devine will be looking for fireworks starting Friday afternoon as he and his staff take on a major rebuilding project.
Last season was one of the most fruitful for area teams in years. Northwestern won the Class AAAA Division II state championship and completed its first undefeated football season - at 15-0 - since the school opened in 1971.
South Pointe, in only its fifth season of varsity football, made it to the Class AAA state championship game with hopes of winning its second. But Myrtle Beach wanted the same thing and took it's second state title in four seasons.
Players were the big story. Northwestern had the Gatorade National Player of the Year in quarterback Justin Worley, who is competing for playing time as a freshman at Tennessee.
South Pointe defensive end Jadevion Clowney, considered by most scouting services as the top recruit in the nation, is at South Carolina and predicted to be a starter. Four other players singed with Division I schools in the state: Gerald Dixon Jr. and "Lil'' Gerald Dixon with USC; Rob Byers and Tony McNeal with Clemson.
But as coaches like to say, all of that is in the past, and we are looking ahead. And ahead is going to be akin to a good mystery novel. All kinds of football stuff has happened since last season, so as we celebrate the eve of preseason practice, let's take a look ahead.
There are new head coaches at five schools: Devine at Clover, Kyle Richardson at Northwestern, Bobby Carroll at York, Strait Herron at South Pointe and Michael Allen at Nation Ford.
The assistant coaching roller coaster was more active than ever, with veteran coaches moving to different schools and new faces coming in from other jobs.
Former Nation Ford coach Rusty Jester took a job at Rock Hill; John Barrett, at Northwestern last year after a stint as York's coach, moved to Clover; Karl Startsman, who worked at Northwestern, South Pointe and Rock Hill, joined Carroll at York.
Herron added former Weddington (N.C.) coach Justin Harden and Rock Hill's Jason Winstead after losing several coaches to Northwestern and York. Former Great Falls and Lewisville coach Kim Gray returned home as an assistant at Chester for a second time.
Reputations will grow as the season progresses, but so far the heavily recruited players this season are Nation Ford receiver J.J. McCullough and Fort Mill kicker Worth Gregory.
McCullough (6-5, 230) attended Clemson's camp but was limited due to a hamstring injury suffered during his track season. Clemson, Kentucky, Miami of Ohio and South Carolina have offered. North Carolina is showing interest.
Gregory is getting looks from several ACC and SEC teams.
Schedules are calmer this season, meaning not as many long road trips or games on nights other than Friday, but there are some of both.
The regular season officially starts with Week 1 on Aug. 26. But six area teams were unable to fill their slots and have Week 0 games on Aug. 19.
They are: Abbeville at Chester; Clover at South Point (N.C.), the school Devine left to come to Clover; York at Lewisville; Nation Ford at Forestview (N.C.) and Westminster Catawba at SouthLake (N.C.)
The Thursday night games are: Great Falls at C.A. Johnson and Ridge View at Rock Hill on Sept. 29; and Lancaster at Northwestern on Oct. 13.
And there is one Saturday game scheduled and possibly more if any are rained out. On Sept. 10, South Pointe travels to West Rowan and will play at 4 p.m. as part of a doubleheader.
Concession stands. I haven't been to a bad one around here in years. So buy a ticket, a program and at the concession stand get a hot dog to go along with those other goodies.
Schools depend on the funds raised by football to help run all of their athletic programs.
Barry Byers 329-4099