As the Fort Mill school area swells in size, the level of expectations and competition amongst its myriad of sports teams rises as well, so much that its reaches have crept down the road to Lancaster County.
The Indian Land Warriors are no different as they move up to Class AA competition this season due to the expansion of its student body.
"Last I checked, the amount of students that are currently enrolled at Indian Land High is at around 669 and growing," said coach Mike Mayer, beginning his 10th season at the school on the eastern border of Lancaster County. "When I first arrived here, it was around 370.
"In regards to how it affects football this year, it'd be nice to have a higher number of players and personnel going into a new conference, but we'll make do with what we've got."
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And true to the motto emblazoned on the side of the athletic department trailer, Mayer and his squad are making "no excuses" going into a promising 2010 season.
The Warriors went 3-7 last season after a 2-0 start, failing to live up to the promise of their early success and their goal of making the playoffs. Mayer is counting on his players' intangibles such as character and work ethic to buoy the overall performance of the team and improve on last year's inconsistent play.
"We graduated around 20 players, which definitely hurt our team a bit," Mayer said. "Yet, I'm excited for this season because of the chemistry shown by my players on and off the field. Plus we have some great leaders that set a precedent for the rest of the team to follow."
Leaders such as rising seniors HB/LB Breyon Williams and WR/FS Jarrell Robinson, who have stressed hard work and a constant drive for self-improvement to their teammates. Williams is quiet and leads by example with his approach to practice that inspires those around him. Robinson has adopted a more vocal, hands-on style that he feels is necessary to help mold the players.
"If I notice an underclassman or another teammate not running his route correctly, or struggling in the air, I'll pull them to the side and get in their ear a bit," Robinson said. "I just give them advice on how to cut and other skills they'll hopefully learn in time. But it takes hard work, a whole lot of hard work."
The hard work needed for a memorable season is more than expected from the players this season -- it's vital. Due to the amount of players tasked with double duty on both sides of the ball, Mayer has christened his team as "Iron Men" because of the strength and conditioning needed to play entire stretches of a game without rest. It was a task bestowed upon new strength coach Barry Hallums, whose increased emphasis on cardio-intensive training draws words of praise from players.
"I worked a lot on endurance conditioning in the offseason to prepare for the fall," said OL/DL A.J. Gordon, one of the many players who plays on both sides of the ball. "I won't be granted too much time for a break during games, so I'm glad we spent as much time as we did these past few months focusing on endurance."
"Things that used to make me winded I now can pull off with no problem," Robinson added. "And it's all due to Barry pushing us."
When prompted to detail what the team needs to improve on before their Aug. 27 opening game against Buford, Mayer cited the inexperience of the offensive line as an area of potential concern. But rising senior Daniel Hall, a third-year starter who anchors the line at center, is more than up to the challenge of motivating his fellow trench men to mesh together.
"We may be somewhat undersized, but we won't be pushed around or intimidated," Hall said. "Aside from hand and footwork, the key to a successful line is being on the same page. I'll work my hardest to make that happen, and I'm sure the rest of the guys will, too."
Perhaps most important of all to the team, according to Mayer, is the pursuit of education, maturity and preparing for the responsibilities of impending adulthood.
"This group of players I have now, I believe, has the highest cumulative GPA of any team I've ever coached," Mayer said. "And I've always made it my highest priority to use sports as a vessel to teach kids what responsibility, discipline and humility mean to the rest of their lives."
For Williams, among the team leaders in GPA, his dreams of playing football at the collegiate level and beyond pale in comparison to the benefits of having a good education.
"I've wanted to play in the NFL my entire life, but in my household, grades and education have always come first," Williams said. "I'll be fortunate to play college ball, but my desire to go to college is mainly to graduate and have the building blocks for a future career after sports."
The Warriors' slogan for the 2010 season is "time to man up." Considering the on and off the field priorities for the team, perhaps they couldn't have picked a more appropriate motto.