It was a shirt-sleeve day back in 2004, and Al Leonard spoke with excitement and enthusiasm.
He stood on a hillside, looking down where construction workers were busily adding to the skeletal walls that would become Rock Hill's third high school, South Pointe.
He pointed as he talked.
The football stadium will be over there; the gym there; the main office over here; the library; the lunch room; the auditorium; this hall; that hall. He knew the place like the back of his hand and it wasn't even close to a fourth done.
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Leonard literally moved through the woods at Saluda Trail Middle School, where he had been principal since it opened, to oversee the opening of South Pointe.
And that day, he made a promise.
"We are excited," he said. "We want to hit the ground running when the doors open; to be competitive in academics, athletics and every aspect of high school life. We want to get off to a good start and not get into a position where we have to catch up."
With the help of others, he made it happen, especially on the athletics side in football. The first year, 2005, there were no seniors or juniors at the school. There was no varsity football; only junior varsity and freshman teams.
Bobby Carroll, the school's first coach, made a decision that paid huge dividends. Seeing he had a talented group of ninth graders, he and his assistant elected to keep them together and use only sophomores for the JV team.
Good move. The freshmen went 10-0 and stars were born that year: Stephon Gilmore, Devin Wherry, Graham Tuttle, Charles Holmes, Pete Roseboro, Harold White, Sam Mallard and many more. The foundation had been laid, just as it had for the school, and it was no secret the football team would, in the near future, look as good as the new building and athletics facilities.
There were some gaffes, including the sprinklers seeming to have minds of their own and coming on during practice. And there was the time new home jerseys were ordered and washed before they were used. They bled, and everything white turned pink.
When 2006 rolled around, it was time to play varsity football, and as the school's original website had on its home page: A Tradition of Excellence Begins.
2006 SEASON: The Stallions were 3-8, and except for four games, were in contention. There were losses of 14-7 to Rock Hill, 6-3 to Clover, 28-14 to Northwestern and a 23-13 loss to Irmo in their first-ever game.
South Pointe got its first win in its second game, 28-0 over Lower Richland, followed by a 28-25 win over South Aiken.
Worth noting: The Stallions' first controversial call came in their opener. Irmo's quarterback appeared to have touched the ground with his knee and South Pointe's inexperience showed. The majority of defenders let up, and a long touchdown run was the result.
2007 SEASON: Although the 3-8 record was hanging like a cloud, Gilmore had become the most talked-about junior quarterback in the state. Led by Gilmore and with so many talented players around him, folks from around the state correctly predicted that the Stallions were ready to stampede. And they did.
South Pointe was within two wins of playing for the state championship after getting mashed by Berkeley in the playoffs, 31-21. Its 9-4 record included some impressive wins: 41-18 over Richland NE, 16-0 over Rock Hill, 48-14 over Aiken in the first round of the playoffs, South Pointe's first postseason game.
Worth noting: Gilmore was nothing short of outstanding. Offers began coming in from major colleges throughout the country.
2008 SEASON: The talented freshmen from 2005 were seniors, and Gilmore was ranked the top player in South Carolina. Before season began, the top player from North Carolina, DB DeVonte Holloman, transferred in from Charlotte's Independence.
The Stallions were by no means a two-man team, but Gilmore was its heartbeat. South Pointe, in just its third season, accomplished in one year more than some teams that have been around forever. The Stallions were Region 4-AAAA champs, went 15-0 and won the Class AAAA Division II state championship, a 35-14 win over Northwestern. They won the region with a 31-10 win over Rock Hill.
Worth noting: Gilmore won just about ever honor possible. He was a Parade All-American and was S.C. Mr. Football. Gilmore and Holloman signed with South Carolina, Wherry with S.C. State and Holmes to a prep school.
2009 SEASON: Would it be a down year for the Stallions? Not hardly. Corey Rawls did a terrific job running the offense, and South Pointe's defense gave a preview of how stout it would be with Jadeveon Clowney and Gerald Dixon on the corners, Tay Hicklin and Corey Rawls in the secondary and Landon Ard booming kicks and punts. South Pointe lost four games, but the final was the toughest. The Stallions lost 24-6 to Northwestern after beating the Trojans 30-7 in the regular season.
Worth noting: Clowney became a household name and the recruiting derby began. Before the 2010 season began, he was ranked the No. 1 overall player in the country by most scouting services.
2010: The Stallions were dropped to Class AAA, and with a talented senior back, were a favorite to win the state championship along with Myrtle Beach. Hicklin started the season at quarterback, but the offense began contributing more after Devin Pearson took over late in the season. South Pointe lost only to Northwestern 42-20 in the regular season and ended up 13-2 after losing to Myrtle Beach 27-23 in the championship game.
Worth noting: South Pointe and Northwestern met in August at a game shown nationally on ESPN. South Pointe led at the half, but Worley passed the Trojans to five touchdowns in just under five minutes in the third quarter to complete the comeback. Clowney waited until his birthday, Feb. 14, to sign in front of at least 100 local and national media. It was live on ESPN and a national audience watched as he announced South Carolina over Alabama. Dixon also chose the Gamecocks and Ard earned a roster spot as a walk-on kicker.
2011 SEASON: The talk started again. Too many top players gone, Carroll gone to coach at York (lost twice to the Stallions this year) and a first-year coach in former assistant Strait Herron. But how the Stallions thumbed the doubters. The only loss was to Spartanburg, the game after five starters were suspended for an after-game tussle with Rock Hill. Speed? The Stallions can fly on both sides of the ball. So here they are, 13-1 and headed to Clemson on Saturday to play 14-0 Bluffton.
Worth noting: If you weren't counting, this is South Pointe's third championship trip in four years and third in only six seasons. Stallions Gilmore and Clowney were two of the most hyped players to come out of this town since Rock Hill's Chris Hope (Tennessee Titans) in 1998. South Pointe, as written above, was 3-8 in its first since. Overall, the Stallions are 61-19.
Bottom line: Leonard had a vision and put people in the right places to make it happen. But he'll be the first to tell you - the kids at South Pointe are special.