A few years back, the administration at Academic Magnet High School gave serious thought to ending the football program.
The Raptors were having trouble attracting enough players to field a competitive football team.
Academic Magnet has had four winless seasons since starting football in 1998. The Raptors managed just one touchdown and were beaten, 100-0, by Hanahan during the 2000 season.
But in 2009 and 2010, the Raptors won four games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
A breakout season in 2011 was the next logical step for the program, but the Raptors stumbled to a 2-9 campaign.
“We just were not ready for success,” said Academic Magnet coach Bud Walpole.
This fall, Walpole had a different feeling about his team.
“The kids worked very hard in the offseason,” Walpole said. “You could tell early on that this team was different. The 23 players that we’ve got are very close. They’ve bonded through the years and you could tell they were ready.”
He was right.
Heading into tonight’s game with Battery Creek, the Raptors are 6-3 and have assured themselves of the first winning season in the school’s history. They will make the playoffs for only the second time in school history, although a year ago every team in their region played in the postseason.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the entire team, but especially for those seniors that have stuck around,” Walpole said. “They’ve taken ownership of this team and this program and to see them finally rewarded on the field has been a very satisfying feeling for everyone associated with the program. Every once in a while a special group comes along and this has been a special group to work with.”
A big reason for the Raptors’ success has been the play of running back/defensive back Stuart Walters. Walters has rushed for 1,179 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. A week ago in the Raptors’ 42-28 win over North Charleston, the senior rushed for a career-high 253 yards and scored five times, including a 75-yard kickoff return.
“Stuart does it all for us,” Walpole said. “He can run the ball, he can catch it and he’s a very good defensive back. He’s also a team player. Stuart knows he wouldn’t be getting the yards he’s getting without our offensive line and guys like Alex Lansink opening up holes for him.”
Running back Nat Schlosser, who recorded his second straight 100-yard game against North Charleston, has proven to be a nice compliment to Walters.
“We’ve got some kids that can the ball and that has been a key for us,” Walpole said.
Defensively, the Raptors are led by linebacker Cody Ashy, who is averaging more than 12 tackles a game, and defensive ends Joe Kilgallen and Zac Seever.
“We’ve given up some points, but we’ve also come up with some big stops at key moments in the fourth quarter,” Walpole said.
A win over Battery Creek tonight will give the Raptors seven wins and plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs.
“I’m sure glad they decided to keep the football program around,” Walpole said. “Think of what everyone would be missing this season.”