Time seems to have flown since last Saturday night.
But with some minutes to spare and a chance to sit back and reflect on South Pointe's 42-27 blowout win over previously unbeaten Bluffton in the Class AAA state championship game, the thoughts are good. Life is good, especially for Rock Hill's third and newest high school, which has played varsity football for just six seasons.
The 2011 Stallions (14-1) were blue collar, much like their first-year coach Strait Herron. On the field, there were 11 who worked as one. No superstars, just players who knew what to do and did it.
Herron wanted it that way. When he was promoted to head coach, Herron made several promises to a captive audience on the school's Parents' Night. It's his first job as a head coach. Herron said he took his football philosophies from the many good coaches he had worked for: Jim Ringer, Marty Woolbright, Jimmy Wallace and most lately, Bobby Carroll, South Pointe's coach for the first five seasons.
Herron promised stronger discipline and academic standards. He wanted to put his stamp on the team. He wanted to do it his way, which proved to be the right approach. Herron knew he could not let the pressure consume him. South Pointe had been to two championship games, winning one in 2008.
He was concerned that good players were walking out the doors as seniors without the grades to play in college. That is a work in progress. And he was concerned that some folks had tagged "thugs" as a description for the team. That description is not true, he said, and as a close observer for several weeks, I agree.
The Stallions are the same as the kids at Rock Hill, Northwestern, York, Nation Ford, etc. There are some the coaches have to keep an eye on. All teams have those. But it doesn't meant those players are bad. And Herron did an exceptional job teaching his players to do things the right way. Off the field, he got them involved in charity events.
But how about the fight after the Rock Hill game, some of you are thinking? Five Stallions and nine Bearcats were suspended for a game following that incident. It was more of a scuffle and was quickly brought under control. Rock Hill coach Joe Montgomery took the situation seriously, but laughed when he said two of the offenders were cousins and were embracing.
And some have openly criticized the Stallions for not kneeling while an injured Bluffton player was on the ground being cared for with 17 seconds left in the game. Every one should have, but several didn't. Why? They had begun celebrating their championship before the hit and had their backs to the field; they were shaking hands with their family and friends in the stands.
I was there, in the middle. Corey Neely, who made the hit, Tay Hinton, Montay Crockett and Aryan Jennings were the closest to me. I saw them telling their teammates to take a knee. I saw one of them grab a coach by the shoulder and tell him to kneel.
Some people don't see those things. I saw it up close and was proud of the way those four reacted, a direct example of the lessons Herron pushed on his troops all season.
Neely, if he wasn't, should have been handed the game ball. His two punt returns for touchdowns of 57 and 53 yards in the first half were the difference. He also had an interception deep in Stallions' territory that stopped a possible Bobcats' touchdown in the first half.
Next up: junior quarterback Devin Pearson should get game-ball two. After running just three times in the opening half, he began calling his number after the break and led the Stallions up and down the field.
After the game, he said: "(Bluffton) still had a chance. I was going back out to do more to help the team. We had come too far to let them come back on us.''
That's the type of attitude the Stallions took onto the field every game night. Good kids - yes sir; no sir; thank you - working for the same goal. They had a mission for wanting to win the championship.
To a man, nearly every Stallions player said they wanted to win for Herron, that he had built a new attitude and that the team was closer this season. Like a family, several said.
But possibly no player summed up what it meant to the players.
"I'm happy about the two touchdowns, but I'm more happy that we won for everyone that supported us," Neely said. "And I'm happy to win for our head coach."
Well said, Corey. And Strait, you carried out your promises. And because you did, you carried your team to another state championship.