When youth football coaches across the state found out that Rock Hill’s Gray-Y football league would only have seven teams this season, they surely shuddered.
Come all-star time, South Carolina youth football leagues with 10 teams or more are required to divide into two all-star teams for statewide postseason play. That stipulation has long cost Rock Hill’s all-stars in state tournaments, as their two watered-down teams beat up on each other in district tournaments and prevented state domination.
That wasn’t the case this year, and the effects have been obvious. Rock Hill’s Gray-Y All-Stars, a team of 25 budding football studs age 12-and-under, will play Florence on Saturday in the South Carolina Parks and Recreation Association’s state championship game in Myrtle Beach.
“In previous years, for some reason or another, they always split our talent up,” said the team’s coach, Troy Walls, before practice Wednesday evening at a chilly Hargett Park. “Now we’ve got the opportunity to take all of the talent we’ve got and put it on one team, and, knock on wood, we’ve been successful.”
Saturday’s championship game has been set for 7:15 p.m. at Ashley Booth Field, adjacent to Doug Shaw Stadium, where the North-South all-star game will be held earlier the same day. Rock Hill’s team, coached by Walls, Lawrence Brown, Dontae Johnson, Sr., and Winfred Hood, has yet to allow a point in three postseason games, beating Fairfield 44-0 and Chester 24-0 in the district playoffs, before thumping Simpsonville 22-0 last Saturday at Nation Ford High School in the semifinals. Florence, the defending state champions in the age group, knocked off North Charleston to reach the final.
“We haven’t been scored on yet, so it shows when you’re able to take a group of all-stars you pick out of a league and put them on a team and come together, it’s a great thing,” said Walls.
Finding information on the opposition isn’t as easy as in high school football where film is readily swapped, but Walls says he relies on coaches from across the state to share information, and that opposing team’s proud parents often post videos of their kids on YouTube. Those sources have given him a decent read of Saturday’s foes from the Pee Dee.
“Interior-wise, they’re looking pretty good. Defensive ends are good and they’ve got a good quarterback,” said Walls, adding, “he’s a lefty.”
Rock Hill’s Gray-Y All-Star bunch is drawn from the league’s seven teams – the Green Dragons, Demons, Mustangs, Trojans, Raiders, Panthers and Sabres. They’ve been practicing together since the local season – won by the Trojans – ended over a month ago. No other football team, at any level, is still practicing in Rock Hill, an honor to the Gray-Y group. Walls is confident his team can claim the city’s second state title in as many weeks, after his alma mater, Northwestern, won the first last week.
“Our chances are pretty good,” Walls said. “We’ve got a good group of kids. They’re determined, they’re hungry and we stand a good chance of going out there and bringing the gold back.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T