SPARTANBURG — The Shrine Bowl squads began practice Monday morning at Spartanburg High School and continued Tuesday with two sessions each day. The North and South Carolina teams will practice two more times on Wednesday, before a morning practice on Thursday and a walk-through on Friday. Here’s some notes and information gleaned from roaming Monday and Tuesday’s practices:
• South Pointe’s Sierra Gilmore is one of two student correspondents this week for the Shrine Bowl. Part of Gilmore’s duties as a student journalist for the week include producing at least four stories per day that will be part of a newspaper the game is printing. She’s actually covering the North Carolina squad this week because no students were chosen from that state, while Nikki Efimetz, from Boiling Springs High School, is covering the South Carolina squad. The two were chosen from a large pool of applicants. Gilmore, the younger sister of former Stallion football standout and current NFL rookie Stephon Gilmore, said she’s interested in journalism but most likely as a minor in college. She wants to go to law school eventually.
• A large number of colleges turned out Monday and especially Tuesday after wet weather cleared the area. Furman, Gardner-Webb, Newberry, Catawba, Appalachian State, The Citadel, N.C. Central, UNC-Pembroke, Delaware State, Presbyterian, Campbell, Carson-Newman, Western Carolina, Howard and Coastal Carolina were some of the colleges represented, while conspicuously absent were Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I) schools. Two years ago, the NCAA declared that only Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) schools could attend all-star games like the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. High school coaches were miffed by the decision, only seeing the ban as a limit on student-athletes’ opportunities, especially for the kids coming from smaller schools. Similarly, FCS school coaches at Tuesday’s practice didn’t see the big deal.
“I thought it was odd,” said Gardner-Webb offensive coordinator Kurt Beathard. “Regardless, these guys are still going to the big schools whether their coaches come or not.”
The goal this week for Beathard and the FCS schools is to identify talent and try to find players that evade the bigger schools’ attention for one reason or another.
• Tuesday morning, North Carolina coach Nelson Smith (Garner) talked briefly about how hard it is to select just 44 players from across the state: “First thing is you gonna leave a lot of kids off because there are a lot of great kids in the state of North Carolina that we watch, but you just don’t have enough to choose them. You feel bad about it, but that’s just the nature of the game. But it’s probably one of the toughest things you’ll do as a coach.”
• Smith on N.C. Running back T.J. Logan, a UNC commit who racked up a mind-boggling 510 yards and eight touchdowns in Northern Guilford’s N.C. 3A state championship win nine days ago: “He’s got vision, he’s got speed. He could be one of those guys that makes a play, and you say ‘wow.’ ”
• Smith on N.C. kicker Matthew Wogan (Porter Ridge High School), committed to Oregon: “When he kicks it, he’s got that thump you don’t hear from a lot of kickers.”
Smith and his coaches met frequently during the spring and the summer, but only intermittently during the fall.
“We communicated by computer and telephone during the season,” he said. “Great group of guys to work with; having a ball.”
South Carolina coach Ray Stackley (Stratford High School) and his staff met every Thursday this fall in Columbia, despite having their day jobs to attend to as well. Living in a smaller state certainly enabled them to do that.
• Stackley feels his Sandlapper squad has a size disadvantage, but superior quickness.
“They have a huge offensive line, but we have a very quick front,” he said after Tuesday’s afternoon session had ended. “Very agile and physical front. And I think we’ve got a few guys at receiver that if we can protect the quarterback we can get it down the field.”
Stackley’s team may be the early underdog based on stats and commitments, but those things will hardly matter Saturday at Wofford College.
“We’re playing against what they say is a great team from North Carolina, but I’ll tell you this is a scrappy bunch, and they’ll get after you.”
• The North Carolina squad has 22 players already committed to football scholarships, while South Carolina has just 10 so far. UNC-Chapel Hill leads all schools with five players signed, all from the North Carolina team, while South Carolina has four, two from each state. N.C. state also has four, all from north of the border.
• York’s Lee Wright is lining up at outside linebacker for South Carolina, while Malcolm Means (Lewisville), another multi-position athlete during the regular season, has been playing safety for the Sandlappers. Rontavious McClure (Northwestern) is at receiver and Alex Simms (South Pointe) is on the offensive line.
• South Carolina’s run scheme was a quick study for Simms, who ran a very similar guard-pulling system this year with Strait Herron’s Stallions. South Carolina offensive line coach Tony Smith is an assistant to Stackley at Stratford.
• There may have been over 1,000 back slaps on Monday and Tuesday as the high school coaching fraternity turned out in force to support Shrine Bowl players and/or congregate with old friends.
• Goose Creek star Tramel Terry has a personality almost as big as his potential. The receiver, headed to Georgia, playfully picked on T.L. Hanna linebacker Ben Boulware several times during Tuesday’s practice, before Boulware, a tackling machine headed to Clemson, got his revenge with a solid hit during a contact drill. Laying on the ground afterward, Terry laughed nervously.
“He’s gonna’ take your head off if you get on him,” said Byrnes receiver Akia Booker.
• Hilton Head’s Michael Julian looks like the starter at QB for South Carolina, though that could easily change by Saturday.