For the first time since 1985, the offensive linemen on the Stratford High varsity football team will have a new voice and a new leader.
Longtime assistant coach Tony Smith decided recently that the 2014 football season would be his last on the field.
“It’s just time to step away and do something different,” said Smith, who also will be giving up his role as junior varsity softball coach, a position he held for the last 18 years. “I know I will miss it. It’s really all I know. But 36 years in coaching, it’s enough.”
Smith, however, will still be very much involved with the athletes at Stratford as he takes on an important role in the area of academics. The coach will work in the guidance department with his sole focus being on the school’s 325 athletes and their ability to be prepared for the next level.
“I will work with all of the athletes on things like scheduling and NCAA clearinghouse stuff, making sure they are taking the right classes and doing the right things to prepare for college,” said Smith, who was named the South Carolina Assistant Coach of the Year after the 2014 season by the South Carolina Coaches Association. “My job will be to monitor all of the athletes once they enter Stratford High School and making sure they are eligible and moving towards getting into college. It’s really something that is needed at the bigger schools.”
The Aiken native admits he once had aspirations to be a head coach, but after a while felt his niche was working as an assistant, particularly on the offensive line.
“I just really didn’t want to move my family or change what we had going on, and it has been great,” said Smith. “I loved coaching football and I loved coaching at Stratford.”
Smith’s retirement from coaching is the second major coaching move on the offensive staff at Stratford. Offensive coordinator Dennie McDaniel was recently named the head coach at St. John’s High School.
Taking over as the Knights’ offensive coordinator this fall is former James Island head coach John Patterson. Patterson, a 31-year coaching veteran and former assistant at The Citadel, has been the athletic director at Campbell High School in Litchfield, N.H., for the last four years. Patterson is excited to be heading back to the Lowcountry and also back into coaching.
“I’ve always been most happy as a coach,” said Patterson. “I’m a teacher, a teacher of football and of weight training. It’s always where I have been most comfortable and I’m excited about getting the opportunity at Stratford.”
Patterson says he and Stratford head coach Joe Marion will decide in July how best to approach the 2015 season in terms of offensive philosophy. He does not anticipate a lot of change from what the program has done in the past.
“It’s a lot easier for to me to change than to change the entire program, but coach Marion and I will sit down and I will give him what he wants,” said the coach. “I’m sure we will try to retain as much of the terminology and formations as possible and work from there.”
Several of the area’s high school football programs will participate in several passing league dates around the Lowcountry over the next six weeks.
Cane Bay is hosting the first local event on June 10 at 10 a.m. Fort Dorchester will host leagues on June 11, 18 and 25 at 6 p.m. each night.
Stratford will host a three-day competition — July 14-16 — at 9 a.m. each day.