Familiarity should benefit Trojans’ quest for title

bmccormick@heraldonline.comDecember 2, 2013 

Northwestern and coach Kyle Richardson will be familiar with this week’s goings-on, as well as the imposing surroundings of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

Monday had a familiar feeling for the Northwestern Trojans’ football contingent that visited the South Carolina High School League’s office for the Class AAAA Division II football state championship press conference.

In fact, everything this week will have a familiar feel for the Trojans, who traveled the same path last year, only to fall in overtime to Greenwood in the state championship at South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium. The familiarity of the situation provides some reassurance in an otherwise nerve-jangling week.

“Last year there was a lot of people excited, and this year we’re kind of calmed down and we know we’ve got to take care of business,” said junior receiver Dupree Hart.

This was the program’s fifth visit to the Monday press conference in six years, another way of spelling out the dominance of Trojan football since 2009.

“Today, we know what to expect,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson. “We’ll go into the stadium Thursday, go practice at the stadium and for our guys that were in it last year, seeing the locker room and the stadium and all of that, none of that stuff will be a big deal to them. To some of our young guys it will be, but it’s pretty much a senior-laden team that were juniors last year.”

Mason Rudolph was Richardson’s lone tag-along for last year’s press conference when the Trojans were pitted against Gene Cathcart’s Greenwood Eagles in the final. Rudolph would have been able to tell his cohorts on Monday, Hart and senior Corey Seargent, that there would probably be some awkward points in the press conference, some questions from a bunch of weirdly smiling people staring at them with pens and notepads, and then all the barbecue, sides and sweet tea your innards could handle, just in time for a dozy ride back to Rock Hill.

The bigger shocker, just in terms of sheer scale, hits when the teams visit Williams-Brice. No doubt teenage jaws, full of braces and braggadocio, will drop. That’s where the Trojans’ experience of using the facility last December will come in handy.

“The environment, we’re gonna be a lot more comfortable with it, just being there and doing the whole deal,” said Rudolph, who toured several similarly monstrous stadiums during his college recruitment. “We’re gonna be a lot more calm, and just ready to play.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Stratford will automatically be shell-shocked because they didn’t play in a state final last year.

“I don’t think the awe factor will be a big problem,” said Stratford coach Ray Stackley. “Our kids have played in big venues, all of these kids have watched us when we were playing in state championship games, and the big stadium is not gonna be a big deal because it’s only gonna have 15 to 20,000 people like you play in front of in a big high school game.”

Stackley, the only coach in Stratford’s 29-year school history, has been around long enough to know there may be some advantage for the Trojans, especially in a game involving teenagers.

“The advantage they’re gonna have is the experience of being here and losing a close ballgame last year,” said Stackley. “I’m sure that’s a motivator for them.”

The Knights coach went on to say that the game will come down to which team is better, meaning which team protects the ball and doesn’t “mess up bad in the kicking game.” Richardson echoed Stackley’s comments to a degree, saying that Northwestern’s loss last year to Greenwood didn’t hinge on a lack of state championship game experience.

“That’s not the reason we lost last year, we lost to a really good football team,” he said. “But that part of the unknown is known this year, and we can get some of that behind us.”

One difference from last year’s state championship experience will be the uniforms. After wearing purple and gold in 2012, the Trojans will wear white pants and jerseys with their customary purple lids.

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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