Colleton County looks for football success now that 36-game skid is history

They did things a little differently last week in Walterboro, a one-time bastion of high school football that has fallen on hard times lately.

The Colleton County High School football team ended its 36-game losing streak last Thursday, and had a pep rally the next day. The heroes were saluted and celebrated by a gym full of students and fans.

The pep rally wasn’t by plan. But the school’s principal, Cliff Warren, noticed all the school’s fall-sports teams had won on Thursday. So it was time to celebrate.

The Bulldog football team celebrated its first win on the gridiron since Nov. 6, 2009, and the team did it in style with a 40-37 victory over Wando.

Second-year Colleton County coach Chris Collins said he knew it would take time to build a foundation for the future. He also knew his players wanted to win and make the community proud of them.

“It was exciting to win that first game,” said Collins, who came to Colleton in time for the 2012 season after two years at Lakewood High in Sumter. “It takes a lot to teach young men to win when they had never experienced it. Last year, we were just trying to win in practice. We had to establish there was a right way to do things.”

Collins is familiar with the Lowcountry. He played at Summerville and has coached at Berkeley, Timberland and Wando.

He replaced Leroy Riley, who led the Bulldogs to the Division II-AAAA state title in 1997. In the 1990s, the Bulldogs were feared with a roster of more than 100 players. But the lack of success was reflected in victories and roster size as both dwindled.

Collins is confident the program can return to its winning ways and become one of the state’s best programs — again.

“We are the only high school in the county,” Collins said. “That’s gives us a big pool of players. But today in football, it takes a while because all the schools we play are year-round programs. You can’t start in August and expect to win. You have to start long before that.”

Ramon Hall, the team’s quarterback, suffered a knee injury in last year’s season finale against Beaufort. He said it took a lot of hard work to get back to 100 percent, but it was all worth it to finally win.

“It was exciting, of course,” he said. “I had never won a game as a Colleton County football player. I wanted to change that. We wanted to change that. I knew my guys would come through because we worked hard.”

Colleton County had several close calls before last week’s victory. A year ago, the Bulldogs lost an 8-6 decision to West Ashley, saw a 21-0 lead against Cane Bay disappear in a 26-21 loss, and dropped a 29-28 decision to Beaufort in the season finale. They opened this season with a 14-12 loss to Woodland.

“We lost to some good football teams,” Hall said. “We believed in ourselves. Now, with the win, our fans believe in us.”

Colleton County plays at undefeated West Ashley on Friday and then hosts undefeated Stratford on Oct. 4.

“It’s tough to come in and win with the schedule we have,” Collins said. “But I know we can do it. The players know they can do it. That’s what winning does to a program.”