Gearing up: Berkeley begins football practice with new coach, new attitude

New coach Randy Robinson led Berkeley High School in the football season's first day of helmets-only practice on Friday. Wade Spees/Staff July 29, 2016

MONCKS CORNER — The first day of practice is an exciting time for all high school coaches and players. But Friday morning’s opening day was more special than most for the Berkeley High School team and new head coach Randy Robinson.

Robinson was hired in April to replace Jeff Cruce, who went 25-32 in five seasons at Berkeley. Robinson came to Berkeley from Daniel High School, where he spent 17 seasons as a coach. He compiled a 97-31 record in 10 seasons as the head coach at his alma mater.

Though he spent the entire summer at Berkeley, competing in 7-on-7 camps and getting to know his new team, Robinson said the “official” first day of practice was better than he had anticipated.

“The first day of camp, no matter where you coach, is always a special, exciting time,” Robinson said. “Today was awesome. I loved the attitude of these kids. We had great energy and we worked hard. We have a long way to go as far as being ready to play a game. We’re playing catch-up in a lot of areas, but man this was fun today.”

Senior quarterback Darius Douglas, who passed for more than 1,600 yards as a junior, saw a new attitude Friday.

“Things are different, no doubt,” Douglas said. “The discipline is really strong. Coach Robinson is pressing us hard. I don’t think many people think we can do much this year. For us, that’s our motivation — to prove everyone wrong.”

Robinson said he slept very little on Thursday and arrived at the school at 6:30 a.m. Friday. His top priority was to see how the hard work over the summer carried over into fall camp.

“We worked hard all summer and they were great,” the coach said. “I wanted to see how that carried over. The summer is one thing, but it gets real now and we wanted to see how they responded. It was good overall. I’m pretty pleased.”

The Stags finished 3-7 in 2015. Defensively, Berkeley was one of the worst programs in the state, allowing more than 40 points per game, including three games where they allowed 70 points.

“Last year was really tough, especially for us guys on defense,” said senior defensive end Aerimon Gipson. “We are determined to be better this year. We have to fight hard on every down. That’s the message with the new coaches. There is a real sense of urgency this year. From Day 1, coach Robinson told us exactly what has to get done, and so far, everything he said then is happening. We’re washing away last year and moving forward.”

Robinson said he talks very little about the past, particularly last season. But, he admits that working on the overall psyche of the team has been a challenge.

“They heard all last year how they weren’t any good, just a lot of negative stuff,” Robinson said. “That’s in the past. We are working hard to build them up, to make them believe in themselves. I think we’re headed in the right direction in that area.”

Ironically, Berkeley’s season opener is at Daniel. The game was scheduled last year when Cruce and Robinson, good friends for decades, decided it would be a fun game to play.

“When I scheduled it, it was a fun game, but now, knowing what I left there, it’s not a lot of fun,” Robinson said jokingly. “But I’m excited about this program and this team. We’re looking forward to the first game but we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.”

North Charleston head coach Chris Reger accepted an administration position at Ashley Ridge earlier this week, leaving the Cougars in limbo as practices begin. Efforts to contact anyone at North Charleston to discuss who might serve as the head coach this season were unsuccessful.

Fort Dorchester opened practice with several new faces on the field as the program received some high profile transfers. Junior receiver Justin Williams, a member of Colleton County’s roster just a few days ago, is now at Fort Dorchester. Williams is regarded as one of the state’s top junior prospects.

DeAngelo Knight, one of the top junior athletes in the area, is also at Fort Dorchester. Knight played two years ago at Northwood Academy and played last year at Pinewood Prep. He also is a talented basketball player. Tyler McLellan, a 6-7, 340-pound junior offensive lineman, has moved in from Forsyth County, Ga.

Former Summerville defensive backs coach Fred Edwards has joined the coaching staff at rival Berkeley. Edwards coached for 40 years under John McKissick but was hired by Robinson this spring.

SCISA football programs got a one-day jump on the public schools, starting fall practice on Thursday. First Baptist, however, was the first school to practice in the state this season, opening camp on Monday. The Hurricanes open the regular season Aug. 12 in a showcase game in Alabama against Escambia Academy of Tallahassee.