Chuck Reedy was not confused about the project he was about to tackle.
He was well aware that Goose Creek High School didn’t win a football game in 2001 and had celebrated just 11 victories in six seasons.
For potential players, committing to the rigors football would put them through for a summer and fall to only enjoy a victory party every now and then wasn’t exactly an appealing option. Interest was low for a reason.
“It was probably the worst program in the state at the time,” said Reedy, an assistant on Clemson’s first national championship team in 1981 and a former Baylor head coach. “Friends of mine in the business said don’t take that job.”
Instead, Reedy accepted the challenge at Goose Creek in 2002 because it was near the coast and he also believed the soil was fertile. He didn’t expect it to be easy but had a plan to build a team through the weight room and push people around with a power running game. At the heart of what Reedy wanted to accomplish was to produce a team the school and community could be proud of. A state championship seemed like a pipe dream.
The very first day of spring practice 40 potential players showed their faces, and that was varsity and junior varsity combined. That’s paltry numbers at any level but it was especially deficient for a Class 4A program. The group was further behind than he thought when he saw them run around and line up that day in early May.
“We went out there to do some drills and start installing the offense and everything,” Reedy said. “But when we got back in, I told the coaches we’re not going to try to put in any plays. I said when we go back out tomorrow, let’s start at this is a football, teach them how to get in a stance and start at the beginning. They had no foundation.”
Reedy remembers having to be more forgiving in those early days, too. Kids didn’t necessarily have to be all in. He would settle for a lot less to keep numbers as high as they could be. It was better to give kids multiple chances than it was to run them off, a scenario that didn’t help the program or the kids.
“We had kids miss practice but we would work with them to try to get them to buy into the program,” Reedy said. “We could have run them all off and we wouldn’t have had enough to field a team. They just didn’t know. They didn’t understand they had to come to practice every day. It took time for them to buy into that. In some areas, we were not real demanding just because we couldn’t be.”
The Gators took some baby steps forward but not nearly enough to close the gap on the competition, especially Summerville, Stratford and Berkeley. Reedy warned then-Principal John Fulmer before the 2002 regular season started not to measure success by wins and losses. They would have a failing grade for sure if that was the metric.
“We judged ourselves on getting better and making improvements, which we did,” Reedy said. “The first year, we won a game (13-6 over Beaufort) which hadn’t happened in a while but it was the only one. Out of the 11 games, we were competitive in seven. Good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose, and we found a way to lose the ones we had a chance to win.”
The campaign concluded with a 48-0 loss to rival Stratford, then one of the top programs in the state. Reedy’s first team finished 1-10, not what he had hoped for but about what he expected.
“I told the kids when we got back to the school our day will come. You just believe in what we’re doing and we’ll get there,” Reedy said.
He was eventually right and the turnaround began with a scavenger hunt of sorts on campus. In the offseason, Gators coaches flooded the hallways in search of kids with size and athletic ability. In particular, Reedy wanted the school’s basketball players to give football a shot.
“There were a lot of good-looking kids in the school,” Reedy said.
Progress was steady initially as the Gators got dialed in on the weight room and Reedy was able to assemble a quality coaching staff. Numbers continued to climb as the years zipped by.
The Gators jumped up to 5-7 in 2003 and made the Class 4A playoffs. They improved to 8-5 in 2004, ending a long losing skid against Summerville (36-7), and also defeated Berkeley twice.
Reedy’s squad maintained its consistency with solid records from 2005-08, winning the region for the first time in 2008. The Gators took a step into another stratosphere by winning two playoff games in 2009 and had eventual state champion Berkeley in trouble before falling 38-35 in double overtime in the state semifinals.
Reedy regrets not going for a 2-point conversion in the first overtime. He’s certain the Gators would have ended it right there because Berkeley’s defense was done. Instead, the Stags survived in the Moncks Corner showdown behind superstar Bruce Ellington and knocked off Northwestern the following week to win the state title.
Goose Creek had to settle for a 10-win season but had vaulted into a different level of conversation. The Gators had a tough squad coming back in 2010 and won 13 straight before falling to the eventual state champion for the second year in a row.
Northwestern edged the Gators at John Fulmer Field, 41-34, in the semifinal round. The Gators squandered a 27-13 lead and their last drive ended at the Northwestern 6 as time expired. It stung but there was a silver lining.
“We were knocking on the door at that point,” Reedy said. “We were getting close.”
With almost 30 seniors, the Gators opened up 2011 as the No. 1 team in Class 4A by the High School Sports Report. Reedy still had a house in Columbia and traveled back and forth to the Midlands, providing plenty time to go over things in his head.
“I can remember going position by position in my mind and thinking we’re pretty dang good,” Reedy said. “I knew it.”
By then, the Gators were always the most physical team on the field.
Goose Creek opened up at Irmo High School. Then-Yellow Jackets coach Bob Hanna saw Gators outside linebacker Raemond Robinson on the sideline in pregame and told Reedy that Irmo didn’t have any players that looked like that.
The comment made Reedy laugh a little. Robinson was 6-2, 185 pounds and super athletic but not nearly as monstrous as some of the other Gators.
“Our kids hadn’t gotten into uniform yet,” Reedy said. “They were just kind of walking around on the sidelines. I said I don’t mean to be smart but wait to you see some of these other guys.”
Four starting offensive linemen were 285 pounds or better and tight end Nick Roach tipped the scales at 260 pounds. At 270 pounds, fullback Virgil Smalls buried people, too. The entire defensive line was big and could move.
Goose Creek led Irmo 44-7 at halftime and coasted, 51-7. At the time, it was the second largest losing margin in Irmo’s history.
The Gators lost 52,-51 in double overtime the following week against an uber-talented squad from University (Fla.) out of Fort Lauderdale. University stopped a 2-point conversion a yard short of the goal line to win a thriller beneath a blazing sun in Goose Creek.
“That may have helped us the rest of the year,” Reedy said. “We were a little flat against Summerville the next week (a 19-7 win) but didn’t have any more close games.”
Indeed, the Gators crushed everything else in their path in the regular season. They mashed Colleton County (58-0), Fort Dorchester (56-7), Stratford (49-0), West Ashley (35-3), James Island (56-0), Wando (72-28), Ashley Ridge (65-3) and Beaufort (31-19) to take a No. 1 seed into the playoffs.
In the opening round, Goose Creek exacted revenge on Lancaster for a 2008 playoff loss (49-12). The Gators then put 2010 behind them by crushing Northwestern in the second round (41-7) before dispatching North Augusta (49-6) in the state semifinals to set up a showdown against Greenwood High School for all the marbles inside Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
The two 13-1 teams traded blows for three quarters and the Gators were still in a donnybrook as the debate raged on in front of around 12,000 fans. As the championship rounds approached, Goose Creek trailed 21-14 before connecting on big play after big play, starting with a reverse with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
Going the other direction, junior Tramel Terry took a pitch from quarterback Jaquan Marsh in the backfield and used a juke move to get around a defender who was in great position. Terry’s 21-yard run converted the fourth-and-3 to Greenwood’s 1.
Smalls walked in standing up on the ensuing play and kicker Masamitsu Ishibashi tied it 21-21 with 57 seconds left in the third.
Greenwood had to punt from inside its own 5 on its ensuing possession after Gators linebacker Sean Jones broke through to sack Eagles quarterback Jackson Miles on third and long. The very next play, Goose Creek’s Gerald Turner blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety and a 23-21 lead for the Gators.
With all the momentum, Smalls pounded the Eagles on the ensuing drive, setting up his third touchdown on a 17-yard run to the Eagles 4. He eventually capped the drive, easily scoring on a third and goal play from the 1 to give the Gators a 30-21 lead with 7:52 left.
“They didn’t want to tackle Virgil in the fourth quarter,” Reedy said. “They got tired of tackling that 270-pound guy.”
He helped finish off the Eagles later in the quarter, going for 24 yards on a rumble up the middle to set up Terry’s 31-yard touchdown burst on a toss play that sealed it with 5:13 remaining. The extra point was Ishibashi’s 97th of the season and accounted for the final tally in the 37-21 victory.
The Gators flexed their muscles up front to finish with over 400 yards rushing in capturing their first-ever state championship. They averaged 366 rushing yards per game for the season, grinding teams to a pulp.
In a time where more and more schools had moved to spread offenses, Reedy was happy to employ power football behind LT Seth Craven, LG Dylan Steele, C Davon Mitchell, RG Matt Steffensen and RT Bryan Flute, a group that averaged over 280 pounds.
“I understood our offense because that’s what we had done at Clemson,” Reedy said. “We had done it at Baylor when I first got there. I knew the nuances of it. We just preached the idea of being tough, hard-nosed and physical. We believed we would eventually wear people down.”
Sophomore tailback Caleb Kinlaw’s 130 yards on 14 carries led the way. His 62-yard scamper in the first quarter set up Smalls’ first touchdown to tie it 7-7.
Smalls finished with 117 yards to go along with three 1-yard touchdown runs that ran his season total to 40 scores.
Terry chipped in 80 yards – also scoring on a 6-yard run in the first half — and senior quarterback Jaquan Marsh added 78 yards on the ground.
Kinlaw was the leading rusher for the season with 1,497 yards and eight touchdowns. Smalls finished with 1,279 yards and Marsh ended up with 1,062 ground yards and 12 touchdowns. He also passed for 1,296 yards and 10 scores.
Terry, who won the state’s Mr. Football award after the 2012 season, was a dual threat. He ran for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns and hauled in 44 passes for 833 yards and six touchdowns.
“I don’t know how many coaches over the years told me we hate to play y’all because we know we’re going to be beat up after we play,” Reedy said. “That was our objective, not to hurt people but to be physical with them.”
On the other side of the ball, T.J. Burrell was a senior linebacker who went to Clemson. Defensive back Kelby Bryant and Robinson made six and four interceptions, respectively.
To this day, the state championship still gives Reedy goosebumps when he thinks about it. For one, it happened on the field where he was a college coach for over 10 years. Second, the Gators had a worst-to-first story. Nobody would have expected them to ever be the last team standing.
“To look up in those seats and see all that black and gold, and the pride they had in our football team, was indescribable,’ he said. “I think we always represented them well. Our kids were behaved and played the game right.”
Reedy stepped down after the 2014 season and compiled a 119-47 record with the Gators. His last five squads were 62-5 and won a region title every year. He is now co-owner of the Come Back Shack in North Charleston.
Reedy sometimes thinks about those days at Goose Creek and it’s not always about the team that won it all. He hasn’t forgotten the group that laid down the first bricks and stuck it out when the stands were mostly empty on Friday nights.
“The ones that got it all started was that first bunch that won one game,” Reedy said. “They helped establish the work ethic, the pride and the idea of getting better every day. That carried on through the years.”
Among that first group was current GCHS assistant Jamie Fordham, who Reedy calls the Gators’ first real good player. Fordham, then a junior tailback, was a team captain and rushed for over 1,100 yards to earn all-region honors. He played college football at Coastal Carolina.
Then-sophomore C.J. Smiley, a running back, and junior lineman James Cowley were additional cornerstones on offense while senior linebacker Josh Lucas was a key player on defense along with sophomore defensive lineman Thomas James. Both Smiley and Cowley signed with Coastal Carolina while James signed with Bowling Green.
On special teams, Nick Orren was a standout as a punter and kicker.