There was plenty of heat, sweat, water breaks and players on Friday morning at the Rock Hill Bearcats first football practice of the preseason.
Most noticeable was a bunch of enthusiasm, the product of eight long months of trying to forget the many heartbreaks from last season.
The Bearcats got off to a 5-2 start but soon after, an error was found in the eligibility forms process. Rock Hill self-reported to the South Carolina High School League that the team was dressing an illegal player.
The League fined Rock Hill $1,200 and ruled the Bearcats would forfeit their first three wins. The player was involved in four games, the fourth being a loss to South Pointe. Heading into their sixth game against Gaffney, the Bearcats were suddenly 2-5.
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The situation was like a wound that wouldn't heal the rest of the season. Bearcats coach Joe Montgomery said some of his players quit playing hard. Rock Hill finished 2-9 and missed the state playoffs.
"We don't like to talk about the past, but there is a lot to be learned from last year,'' Montgomery said. "We start out 5-1, lose the next game and find out we have to forfeit three wins. Then selfishness became as part of it and we kept losing.
"What the returning players learned is what not to do and how they should not act under adversity. All football teams face adversity at some time and must display optimism to overcome it. Those who do overcome it usually go on the have great seasons.''
Great seasons at Rock Hill is the rule, not the exception. The Bearcats have struggled at times since Rock Hill's third high school, South Pointe, opened six years ago. When the schools were zoned, the Bearcats lost some of the neighborhoods that had produced exceptional talent through the years.
Montgomery and his team appeared to have put that adversity behind, but that was before the axe fell.
"Our kids came out of spring practice with the desire to win,'' Montgomery said. "It carried over to summer conditioning and 7-on-7 competitions. We could see it this morning at our first practice. We have players on offense and on defense who came ready to compete.''
This season could be labeled the year before the storm. The SCHSL is working on realignment for the fall of 2012 season through the 2015 spring season and the latest attendance figures list all seven York County schools as Class AAAA. Finally, the hoped-for all-county region could be announced as soon as early August.
But as much as coaches prefer not to look back, it's the same for looking past their first game and the season ahead. This year's Bearcats team has speed all over the field, a trademark at Rock Hill. This year, with both quarterbacks returning, that's a big plus.
"Jonathan Adams (5-10, 180, Jr.) is an outstanding running back,'' Montgomery said. "While other kids from around here were going to football camp at USC, Clemson and North Carolina this summer, Jonathan went to camp at Notre Dame.
"We have big, rangy receivers with good hands who can go up and catch the ball. Our two quarterbacks, Cory Wessinger (6-0, 182, Sr.) and Kenterius Hinton (5-10,185, Sr.) are back and nothing has changed. We will go with the one who is getting us in the end zone. The other will have to compete for his position. We don't object to playing both quarterbacks in a game.''
Wessinger is more of a drop-back passer. Hinton is more of a runner. But Montgomery said a runner has "good success'' passing because opponents pack the box on defense and leave the true fade pass, which is designed to be a touchdown, wide open.
The competition will heat up over the next few weeks, with Wessinger and Hinton showing their abilities in scrimmages. Being a passer, Wessinger is impressed with his receivers and their showing at summer 7-on-7 tournaments.
"We didn't lose many games this summer,'' Wessinger said. "Winning means everything to me and everybody on the team feels that way, especially after last year. It's a different mindset this year. Everything is up-tempo and you'll never hear us talk about losing.
"The receivers ... ours are the best in the state. We have big ones in Roderick Howell (6-7), Jaleal Scott (6-6) and J.J. Jones and Montez McCullough, who are 6-4, and we have speed receivers in Dre Williams, Trey Murdock, Jerry Montgomery and D.J. Hinson.''
Another good bit of news is six starters, impact players, are back on defense -- defensive linemen Mitchell Jeter and Jonathan Schavey; linebackers Bishop Ashley, Deontae' Fleiming; defensive backs Dre Williams (CB) and Durell Bagley (FS).
"We are switching our defense and I'll be playing tackle,'' Jeter said. "Last year showed us we had to work hard to get back going in the right direction. With the attitudes and talent we have, I don't see why we can't take it all the way.
"We have been coming together as a team since spring practice. We know what we have to do besides just working hard. It was hot today, but I didn't think about it. I was thinking about putting on pads and hitting so we can tell who we can depend on.''