It's a trivia question that many would find difficult to answer.
The last Charleston County public high school team to win a state championship in football?
That would be the 1982 Middleton High School Razorbacks, a 28-player team that went 14-0 under the late Jim Werden.
Werden was head coach for 26 years at Middleton, which merged with St. Andrews High in 2000 to form West Ashley High School.
Longtime coach David Reese, who begins his 53rd season on the sidelines this fall as the defensive coordinator at First Baptist, was one of four assistant coaches on Werden’s staff in 1982.
“We all kind of did a little bit of everything back then,” Reese said. “We didn’t have the number of coaches that you see today on these teams. It was coach Werden and four other guys, and we just followed coach Werden’s lead. The man was a heckuva football coach.”
Reese spent the majority of his time working with the defense, a unit that allowed just 60 points all season and saw nearly every starter earn an opportunity to play college football. Shrine Bowl tackle Derek Horn was among the leaders of that stalwart unit.
“We had good size on the front, good linebackers that would hit you, and our secondary was really good,” says Horn, who now lives in Michigan. “We were just okay on offense. We ran the ball mostly and Curtis Alston was a really good running back, but we knew as a defense that we had to be sharp. We had to sort of carry the load and we were able to do that. No one cared how we won. We just wanted to win every game. It all came together in 1982. We had great coaching, great team unity and great team leadership.”
“Those guys on defense were just a different group,” he said. “They played so well together. All of the pieces fit, from the line, to the linebackers, to the secondary. It just all came together. It was easily the best defense I’ve ever been around.”
Basketball coach Ronnie DuPre, a veteran of 33 years and 614 wins at West Ashley and James Island high schools, announced his retirement Thursday. DuPre, 61, said the challenges of teaching and coaching during the coronavirus pandemic this fall were more than he could take on at this point in his life.
Middleton’s two starting defensive ends, Terry Frazier and Bruce Johnson, stood about 6-5 with incredible range and reach on the outside. Cousins Gary Cooper and Mike Byrd were the linebackers. Junior safety Dubie Picquet ended up on the 1983 Shrine Bowl team and played at North Carolina State.
Middleton won the Division II championship of Class AAAA in 1982, the second year that the S.C. High School League crowned two champions in AAAA. Summerville won the Division I (Big 16) state title with a 13-1 record. That lone defeat came to Middleton in a 6-2 slugfest.
“Summerville was really good, I mean really a good football team,” Reese said. “We beat them in one of the best football games I’ve ever seen. They were talented. I’d guess if we played them 10 times, they would probably beat us nine times. But on that night, it was our night. And we sort of laid claim to being the best team in the state.”
The win over Summerville was a defining moment for the Razorbacks, even more important in some ways than the win over Northwestern in the state championship game.
“I think Summerville was the No. 1 offense in the state and we were the No. 1 defense. There was a lot of buildup for the game, lot of publicity,” Horn recalls. “It was a great game, one that I won’t ever forget. It was the first time we ever beat Summerville, and beating Summerville during those days was a pretty big deal.”
The one thing that stands out most to Reese about the team was its work ethic and attitude. He called the 1982 Razorbacks a “true team.”
“We played AAAA football with 28 kids,” he said. “We stopped hitting in practice after four games. We did everything we could to keep fresh bodies for Friday night. We had to do it that way. Not only did it keep us healthy but come Friday night those guys were really anxious to get out there and hit someone. It turned out to be the right thing for us.
“Every day with that team was just fun. Winning is fun and that group had a lot of fun. They were such a joy to be around. They worked hard but for them, that was the fun.”