The Lincoln High School football team celebrated a milestone victory Friday night, an accomplishment that could turn out to be a mile-marker on the Yellow Jackets’ road to success.
Lincoln defeated Creek Bridge, 32-22, to end a 48-game losing streak. It was the team’s first win since Oct. 3, 2008, when the Yellow Jackets beat Branchville. Lincoln tied the state record for longest losing streak the week before, matching Waccamaw’s 48-game skid.
In recent years, Lincoln coaches and officials have wondered out loud if the school could even field a football team, sometimes starting the season with as few as 12 players.
But coach James Waring, in his second stint at the McClellanville school, has drummed up interest in the program despite the hard times. There are 28 players on this year’s team, which is amazing considering only 43 boys attend the school. Lincoln’s enrollment at the beginning of the school year was 90, making it the second smallest school in the High School League and the smallest school to field a football team.
Waring said having 65 percent of the male population play football is a tribute to the pride the students and their families have in the community.
“I coached a lot of players who are uncles and cousins of the current players,” Waring said. “My former players have helped create interest. Lincoln football is about the community, and the community wants to win. They want the young people to succeed.”
Waring made quite a recruiting pitch to the Lincoln students, and it didn’t hurt that he has assistant coaches with recruiting experience — at the college level.
The Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator is Thelien Smith, a former assistant at Clemson, LSU, Charleston Southern and Marshall. Former Citadel assistant Gerald McCully is the offensive coordinator.
Lincoln, 1-3 this season, lost a close encounter to Academic Magnet in the season opener. The Raptors led by three touchdowns and had to hold on for a 43-42 victory.
“That was a tough loss,” Waring said. “I’m not taking anything away from Academic Magnet, but we should have won. The key was that our players didn’t get down, didn’t quit. Friday, all of that effort paid off.”
Defensive end Julio Blake said his team didn’t dwell on the losing streak.
“We tried not to think of it that way,” he said. “We tried to think positively. There were teams out there who knew they could beat us. But there are teams out there that we know we can beat.”
Quarterback Eric Manigault threw three touchdown passes in Friday’s victory.
“It feels like a new beginning,” he said. “I just hope we can keep on winning from here.”
Blake said the Yellow Jackets should be able to win three or more games and qualify for the playoffs.
Waring doesn’t like using a win total to measure his team’s improvement.
“Our goal from the first practice was to get better every day,” Waring said. “I don’t want to put a number on wins, because I don’t want our kids to get discouraged. We didn’t know if the work our players put in might equate with the win total.”
Waring has turned the Lincoln football program around before.
He began his career at Lincoln in 1991, leading a struggling program to a region championship in his second year at the school.
He spent six years at Lincoln before taking the head coach job at Stall High School. He went from Stall to Baptist Hill, and then signed on for a second stint at Lincoln.
“We have some great coaches,” Blake said. “Coach Smith is an excellent defensive coach and coach McCully knows how to move the ball. Then there’s coach Waring. He is big-time, too.”