It will be hard for the 47 high school football teams in the Lowcountry to top the accomplishments of the 2011 season, but approximately 2,000 players and hundreds of coaches begin the task today when the first practices of the season are held. The weather forecast is brutal, with a high temperature of 97 expected. Factor in humidity, and the comfort level should approach 110.
Goose Creek (Division II-AAAA), Timberland (Division I-AA) and Bishop England (Division II-AA) all begin defense of their High School League state championships. Last season marked the first time since 1955 that three teams from the Lowcountry won HSL state championships.
“Obviously, last year was a very special year for football in the area,” Timberland coach Art Craig said. “Not only did all three schools win state championships, but I believe it was the first one in school history for all three. People weren’t talking about just one state championship, they were talking about Lowcountry domination.
Here are some of the storylines for the 2012 season:
Summerville was one of the three local teams to win state titles in 1955, and to put the time lapse in perspective, Summerville coach John McKissick was only 29 years old.
Today, McKissick, who turns 86 on Sept. 25, is on the brink of one of the most impressive milestones in football history. McKissick, football’s all-time winningest coach, begins his 61st season as the Green Wave boss and enters the season just six victories away from 600 in his career. He owns a 594-143-13 record and has had only two losing seasons.
There were a handful of coaching changes, and two of the most notable involve SCISA schools.
Jerry Stoots resigned as coach at Northwood Academy but will continue to be the school’s athletic director and baseball coach. Stoots was a football coach for 36 years, including nine years as a head coach. He led Stall to the state championship game in 1991. He has been the only coach in Northwood Academy’s seven-year football history and led the team to the SCISA state title in 2008.
Also, Leroy Riley is the new coach at Colleton Prep. Riley was the only head football coach in the 10-year history of Colleton County High School football and coached at the old Walterboro High School. He is in his 31st year as a coach with a 157-140 record.
When teams begin practice today, coaches and trainers must follow guidelines established by the South Carolina High School League. The preseason practice plan, endorsed by the South Carolina Athletic Trainers Association, will be used to acclimate players to summer heat and humidity. The practice plan is similar to those used by college football teams and by members of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association.
The plan will limit practice times, provide periods of rest and alternate between long practice days and short practices days. Not only that, but practices from Days 1-14 must be documented to show compliance.
Until this year, the only limitation on practices was the number of days a team could practice before its first game.
The High School League’s realignment for the next two academic years has shaken region alignments this fall.
The biggest news is James Island drops down from Class AAAA to Class AAA, while Hanahan moves from Class AA to Class AAA.
James Island always was one of the smallest Class AAAA schools, and the drop should help all sports, especially football.
“We’ve won one region title in the last 10 years, and that was baseball (in 2010),” James Island athletic director Tom Hatley said.
“We have a few more banners in our gym from our years in AAA than from AAAA. In AAA, there might be a difference of 20 students in the schools you play, instead of 1,000 in AAAA. That makes a difference.”
Bluffton and Cane Bay both move up to Class AAAA, while Stall moves up to Class AAA and Burke to Class AA.
Lake Marion and Battery Creek will drop a level to Class AA.
The realignment won’t affect the Hanahan-Bishop England rivalry. Bishop England, which remains in AA, will play Aug. 31 at Hanahan.
The Bishops also resume their rivalry against Porter-Gaud. The teams haven’t played since 2008.
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @pandcphil.