It has been a long, winding road on the way to the Class A state championship for the Baptist Hill football program and head coach Marion Brown.
Baptist Hill is making its first appearance in a state title game and Brown, the head coach since 2009, is making his first appearance in a coaching career that began at Wando, his alma mater, in 1985.
It took 32 years, but Brown has finally reached the pinnacle. The Bobcats (11-1) will take on Lamar (13-0) for the Class A crown on Friday night at 8 p.m. at Benedict College’s Charles Johnson Stadium.
“It has been a long road getting to this point for me as a coach,” said Brown, a 1977 graduate of Wando. “Something like this allows me to reflect some on all the years, to think about when I first got into high school sports and how I loved working with young people.
"I have been blessed to have been associated with so many great people. There have been some good times but this is certainly the most rewarding time. To see all of the work and commitment pay off in this way is really special.”
Brown is more than a coach and teacher. He works a full day during school, followed by practice, and then spends about two hours transporting players home after practice. But, you won’t hear Brown complain.
“I truly love what I do, every day is a blessing,” said Brown, who works as a high school basketball official after football season. “Being around these guys keeps me young at heart. To see their sacrifice and commitment pay off this way is really special for me. These guys started back in the summer and became a special group. Everyone in our community will always remember the 2017 Bobcats.”
The Bobcats enter the state championship game having already compiled a school-record 11 wins this season. Senior quarterback Corey Fields has cemented his place as the best player in school history. Fields enters the championship game with more than 8,500 career passing yards and 102 passing touchdowns. He needs seven completions to hit 500 for his career.
This season, Fields has 3,830 yards passing with 51 touchdowns. He also has 800 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
“A special player and an even more special young man,” Brown said. “Hard to imagine there ever being anyone as good as Corey. He’s a great student, a great basketball player and a great leader.”
Baptist Hill boasts one of the top passing attacks in all of South Carolina high school football. As Brown says, “we run kicks and punts. That’s the only running we do. We’re a passing team. It’s what we do.”
Richard Bailey leads a trio of receivers with at least 40 receptions. Bailey has 56 catches for 1,417 yards and 21 touchdowns. Jay Burnell has caught 53 passes for 975 yards, and Rashad Maxwell has 41 catches for 859 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Burnell is a key performer on defense as well, with 88 tackles and 10 sacks at defensive end. End Dee’ke Lang leads the team with 135 tackles and has 11 sacks, and Tyler Scott is among the state’s leaders in interceptions with 10.
While the clear and stated goal on Friday is to come away with a state championship, Brown said it is also important that he, his coaching staff and his players enjoy the experience.
“We want them to play loose and free, have fun,” Brown says. “This is a great memory that will live with these kids forever. It will be something I will never forget, I know that. I’m so happy for these boys and for this community. It’s a special thing to be a part of. Hopefully we can finish it off the right way.”