LANCASTER -- Saturday morning at Lancaster's Memorial Stadium it felt like football weather. The annual "Meet the Bruins" was kicking into gear. It was a festive time and a day to relax after a week away from home at football camp.
A couple of buses pulled up to the stadium at about 8:45 a.m. and players streamed out clad in start-of-the-season clean uniforms -- navy blue pants with gold side panels, white jerseys with gold numerals trimmed in gold.
The Bruins and coaching staff assembled for team pictures on a grass berm on the north side of the stadium. The members of the cheerleading squad were introduced to the gathering of parents and fans via an on-field public address system. The band played and the football team and coaches were acknowledged.
Hot dogs were already grilling and soft drinks were on ice. The Bruins were back home after spending four days last week at Camp Bob Cooper. The camp is located in Summerton, about 70 miles down Highway 521 from Lancaster, then a half-hour south of Sumter near Interstate 95.
Coach Bennie McMurray said the camp went well.
"It was hot. There was nothing to do but play football, eat, sleep and play more football," McMurray said.
McMurray is entering his third season at Lancaster and 34th year as a head coach. His first two seasons with the Bruins have produced a pair of four-win seasons. All of Lancaster would like to see more wins this year.
"Patience is not one of my virtues. We want to win now. It's time for this program to step up. Not that we haven't been trying. I feel good about the number of kids we have on this team. We are trying to build a program, not just a one-year wonder. We want to be good year after year. We have a real good chance to be a contender," McMurray explained.
The team has a goal every year to get better as the season goes. Late last year, the team had a three-game stretch it can build on this season. The Bruins beat Rock Hill, 35-24, then played eventual Class AAAA Division II state champ Clover tough before falling, 16-14. Lancaster rebounded with a 39-38 win against Spartanburg.
"The only bad game we had last year was against Crestwood when we fumbled six times," McMurray said.
Then he went on to recall miscues like fumbling three times inside the 10-yard line that cost Lancaster a game against Hartsville last year. Those are mistakes the Bruins want to avoid this year.
"There is a sense of urgency for the players and the coaches. You can feel it. We don't practice to lose. At this level, we've got to get it done. We just couldn't find a way to get over that little hump last year," McMurray said.
Lancaster has a change under center for the first time in a while. Taniel Massey held down the quarterback position for the last four years.
That role goes to junior Matt Reese this season. He led the JV team to a 4-6 record last year. Sophomore Kendrick Gladden will back him up. Neither has taken a snap at the varsity level.
Reese should have some good protection with an experienced line in front of him, led by 6-5, 290-pound tackle William Kirkland. Seth Cobb (6-1, 235), Brian Williams (6-1, 200), Dustin Belk (5-10, 235) and Tyler Outen (6-0, 235) make up the rest of the offensive line.
With some time to throw and a few wrinkles in the playbook, Lancaster will utilize a talented crop of senior wide receivers in Shane Carter, Michael Catoe and Kendrick Thompson.
"We'll do a lot of things to get the ball in their hands," receivers coach Joe Watson said. "If they have the football, they can create. They all have the ability to make a move and score. They can take a lot of pressure off of Matt."
Two more seniors will anchor the Bruins' defense. Defensive back Brion Strothers and linebacker Stephano Drakeford are keys to Lancaster's success.
"Strothers does his checks and gets us into coverage. He is smart, dependable and understands the scheme," defensive coordinator Rick Brown said.
"Stephano gets the front set. He is in the line of fire. He's a big hitter," Brown said.
"We're pretty excited about the defense. That doesn't mean we don't have work to do, but we have a good mix of experience and new kids.
"The defense is not new to them, even though we have tweaked it. We are still doing a lot of the same things. The kids are excited and that is the best thing," Brown commented.
McMurray agreed, describing the defense as "pretty stout."
The Bruins open the season at home Aug. 29 against county-rival Andrew Jackson.