High School Football

Coaching clinics at the root of Rock Hill’s football success

Not all of Kyle Richardson’s one-liners hit their mark with a crowd of youth football coaches Wednesday night at Northwestern High School, but his presentation on how to run screen plays sure did.

The Trojans’ football coach and most of his staff hosted roughly 20 local youth football coaches for the annual Northwestern coaching clinic.

Richardson lamented a lighter-than-expected crowd, in part because the event was pushed back due to Northwestern’s participation in the baseball state championship series the previous week.

But Pat Kennedy was there Wednesday night. Kennedy has coached youth football in Rock Hill for close to 30 years and he was in attendance at Jimmy Wallace and Jim Ringer’s first coaching clinics held in the early 1990s.

“I was glad to see them start up again, so we could get a relationship going with the high schools again,” said Kennedy, a longtime coach with the Sylvia Circle Demons. “This is a very positive experience.”

The coaches were wined and dined with pizza and cold sodas, and at every step of the clinic plied with stapled packets of diagrams, charts and motivational phrases typed in all caps. Trojans strength and conditioning coach James West demonstrated some of his techniques, while tailoring the message to youth coaches whose players don’t lift weights yet.

After an academic talk with Allison Jordan, Northwestern’s academic coach, and school counselor and defensive backs coach Bobby Page, the group separated into defensive and offensive seminars. Wallace was there Wednesday night, spreading the gospel about his latest crusade, a worthy one called “Heads Up football,” which, among other goals, aims to teach young people how to tackle correctly to prevent head and neck injuries. What better venue to share the message than a youth football coaches’ clinic?

Jonathan Fewell, coach of the Gray-Y Ebinport Panthers, stayed in the Northwestern auditorium to watch Richardson reveal his secrets on screen passing, the grease in the Trojans’ offensive machinery.

“I picked up a lot as far as offense,” Fewell said. “I was basically like a sponge trying to absorb all of the information. I learned some good things here today.”

The clinics continue a tradition that has long impacted youth football positively in the Rock Hill area. Wallace and Ringer, rival coaches at Northwestern and Rock Hill in the early 1990s, started the clinics as a means of hoisting up the level of football in the city. By teaching the youth coaches how to better instruct players with more sophisticated methods, the quality of football crept up every year to the apex it’s currently reached, with double-digit players from Rock Hill on NFL rosters.

The clinics stopped for a time, but Richardson has brought the Northwestern version back. Access to high school coaches is a boon for the guys working with kids, given the expertise that Richardson and the other high school coaches in Rock Hill possess. This past spring, coaches from high schools in York County attended clinics or talked one-on-one with coaching staffs at South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, North Carolina and Charlotte, just to name a few.

“It’s wonderful,” said Fewell. “I’m just overjoyed to have guys at the higher level that’s willing to show us their facility and give us the information they have. It’s definitely a positive, and will have a positive impact as a whole.”

For coaches like Kennedy and Perry Sutton, old-heads in the youth football coaching game, there is still reason to attend the clinics.

“We want to train up coaches that are coming in after us,” said Kennedy, who won’t be roaming Gray-Y sidelines forever. “My assistant coaches coming in, it’s very beneficial to them. To have coach Richardson and their staff take time to talk to us and let us know what role we play in getting their players ready for high school, is big.”

The coaches’ heads nodded, or shook, as video of another lethal Northwestern screen pass flicked across the overhead screen up on the auditorium stage. This was the roots of “Football City USA” stretching and growing in live-time.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of people involved and you keep hearing about our city and how good football is,” said Wallace. “It all starts on the bottom level. That’s the foundation of the program.”

There was no bragging about which Gray-Y programs had produced which players, and yet it was these men, intently focused on a Wednesday night after a long day of work, who had attended clinics like this one before, that first nudged the Clowney’s, Patterson’s and Gilmore’s in the direction of NFL stardom.

“They either played for you or against you,” said Kennedy, “and we’re so proud of all of them guys that have made it to the pinnacle of football.”

That’s one reason they keep coming back to the clinics. That, and the pizza. But probably not the jokes.