Strait Herron vividly remembers his junior season of high school football in 1984. The Northwestern Trojans were picked to win the region that season, but Bobby Ivey’s squad ended up dropping its first five games en route to a shocking 2-8 season.
It’s that memory that is partially spurring Herron, South Pointe’s head coach, this season as his team drops down to the 3A level. The Stallions’ last experience in Class 3A went pretty well: they were a combined 27-3 in two seasons, with two championship game appearances, a loss in 2010 and the school’s second state title in 2011. With that recent history still fresh, folks in the community have already been making it known to South Pointe players that a third championship is imminent.
“I’ve been hearing it a lot actually from people I know,” said senior linebacker Marveon Mobley, who had an area-high eight interceptions last fall. “I don’t think that’s the case. There’s a lot of good competition in 3A; we’re still gonna have to put in the work to win state.”
Myrtle Beach, fresh off a 24-21 win over Daniel in the 2013 3A state title game, is favored to provide South Pointe’s top statewide competition. In 2010, the Stallions fell to Myrtle Beach in the 3A state final, a riveting 27-23 loss in which Myrtle Beach quarterback Everett Golson out-maneuvered South Pointe’s college-ready pass-rush, led by Gerald Dixon and Jadeveon Clowney.
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The following season, 2011, the Stallions went 9-1 in the regular season, beat former region rivals Fairfield Central and York – led by former head coach Bobby Carroll – in the playoffs’ third and fourth rounds, before dropping Bluffton 42-27 in the state championship game down in Clemson to lock up the school’s second state title. Even without Clowney and Dixon, the likes of Corey Neely, Devin Pearson, Montay Crockett, Jaryan Jennings, Tay Hicklin, Manzey Miller and others were too good for the 3A competition.
South Pointe’s 2014 team is similarly talented. College-able athletes – like cornerback Chris Smith, safety/receiver Nick McCloud, defensive back Devion Williams and Mobley – abound, ready to assume their place in the brief but impressive Stallion football lore. Ability only goes so far, though. Herron harkens back to the 1984 Trojan squad, a very talented team in his estimation. It just lacked one ingredient.
“No leadership,” said Herron. “The seniors just didn’t care. It was the weirdest thing.”
South Pointe is working on tabbing those kids in its program, the ones that will say what everyone else is afraid to, or put in the extra work that catches the attention of a young, impressionable teammate. As Herron said, “we’ve got to find those kids that are not gonna let us fail.”
“Everybody has the same mentality, they want to win state,” said Williams, who will be the top dog in a talented Stallion secondary, and will also play on offense.
A little reporter-shy, Williams demurred at some of the questions thrown his way during a brief interview Friday, but there’s no doubting his importance as a leader. Thus far, doers have proved easier to find than talkers. Not everyone has to shout to get teammates’ attention.
“I definitely think me and Devion are leaders on the team, as well as DeShawn Davis,” said Mobley. “Our actions are more our leadership.”
However it happens is unimportant. Herron continued his story, pointing out that the 1985 Northwestern team, his senior year, was picked to finish second-to-last, and ended up winning the region.
“Team chemistry is huge,” he said. “My senior year, we had a great group of guys and we just weren’t gonna let it happen again.”
Like most of the teams in the area, South Pointe was confined to its basketball gymnasiums on Friday. Herron took the chance to hold a brief meeting with his seniors before releasing them to practice.
“We gotta find somebody that’s gonna take charge and lead this team,” he told the group. “If you work hard, they’ll follow you.”
While many onlookers may think the Stallions will Lipizzaner-waltz into a state title, anyone that’s been paying attention to 3A football knows that won’t be the case. There’s a difference between expecting to win a state championship and working to win one. Herron’s bunch talks about the latter – “Every day,” said Mobley. “Every day.”