Dylan Sebuck can only shake his head and smile when he thinks about that night four years ago.
Oceanside was playing its first season of varsity football, and the Landsharks' roster was mostly underclassmen. Oceanside trailed Wade Hampton, 63-0, late in the fourth quarter when the Red Devils called a timeout before attempting a long pass to score another touchdown and run up the score on the outmanned Landsharks.
“That was probably the worst game, maybe the most embarrassing moment for us on the football field that whole season,” said Sebuck, a 6-5, 310-pound senior offensive tackle for Oceanside Collegiate Academy.
The memory for Sebuck remains to this day, though the sting has faded.
The Landsharks went 0-8 that season, losing games by an average of 35 points. Two games into the season, Charlie Stubbs resigned as the team’s head coach and was replaced by Michael Bronco.
“I thought we were going to lose every game the next four years,” said defensive back Michael McCoy. “I felt like we wouldn’t stand a chance and all our coaches were going to quit on us.”
After the season was over, Sebuck was ready to hang up his cleats and told incoming coach Chad Grier that he was done with football.
“I told coach Grier I wasn’t going to come out for the team,” Sebuck said. “He told me to go home that weekend, think about it, pray on it, and then make a decision.”
Sebuck showed up for practice Monday afternoon and hasn't looked back. He's glad he stuck it out, especially this Thanksgiving week as the Landsharks prepare to face Barnwell in the Class AA Lower State title game Friday night at WW Carter Field.
Sebuck isn’t the only one. There are 11 starters on this year’s team who are holdovers from the Landsharks' inaugural season.
“It’s been a long process and a lot of hard work and a lot of good coaching,” McCoy said. “Four years doesn’t seem that long from losing every game to winning every game on the field. Sometimes it seems like forever for us because of the work we’ve put into it.”
The turning point for the program came when Grier decided to leave his job in Charlotte and move to Mount Pleasant in 2017. Grier came to OCA from Davidson Day, a program he started from scratch. The team went 64-9 in five seasons and won four state championships.
“I started the program at Davidson Day, and this was actually tougher down here,” Grier said. “This was almost like starting at sub-zero because of the season they’d had the year before. We had to get to zero and then build from there.”
The difference was almost immediate from the players’ perspective.
“Coach held us to higher standards,” said senior wide receiver Joel Osteen. “Being OK wasn’t good enough. What we expect from each other, what we expect on the practice field and in the weight room was everyone’s best effort every day. It’s not OK if you’re not giving it your all on every play.”
After going 0-8 in 2016, Oceanside broke through the following year with a season-opening victory over Pinewood Prep. It was Grier's first game as the Landsharks' head coach.
“It felt like we’d won a state championship,” McCoy said. “He saw the potential in us before we saw it in ourselves.”
Grier said the Landsharks are proving a lot of people wrong, including coaches around the state who told him that he'd never be able to win at Oceanside.
“People kept telling me you can’t win in Mount Pleasant because kids are too soft. Well, that’s not true,” Grier said. “We got off the bus for a 7-on-7 tournament at Byrnes over the summer, and someone asked us if we were there for the spelling bee. We won 10 straight games.”
The Landsharks went 7-3 in Grier’s first season and 8-3 a year ago.
This year, they’ve won all 12 games on the field, although they had to forfeit four games for using three illegal junior varsity players, and are on the verge of making history. No charter school in South Carolina has won a state title in football.
“Almost every game, every win, we think about where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and where we’re going,” Osteen said. “We’re not taking this for granted because we know it doesn’t happen every year.”
Barnwell, which beat Timberland, 49-19, last week, is the defending Lower State champion in Class AA and has been tough to beat on its home field. That doesn’t seem to matter to Grier or the Landsharks.
“The kids earned the right to expect to win,” Grier said. “It’s not going to be OK to just get there. I’m sure there are a lot of people that expect Barnwell to boat race us, and they’re a good football team, but our kids are going up there expecting to win. There’s not going to be any fear in their eyes, no backing down. We’re going to go up there and compete.”
If the Landsharks make it past Barnwell, they’d be just the third football team from Charleston County to play for a state title in almost 40 years. Middleton was the last Charleston school to capture a state title, beating Northwestern for the 1982 Class AAAA crown. The other schools to reach the state finals were Stall in 1991 and Baptist Hill in 2017.
“It would mean I’d get to coach these guys one more week,” Grier said. “I’m not ready to not be around this team, especially the seniors. It’s a special group. Going to play in Columbia and playing for a state championship isn’t what’s important to me, it’s getting to be around this team for another week.”
The Class AA state championship game is scheduled for Dec. 6 at Benedict College.