Stratford Knights, off to 4-0 start after going 21-27 last four seasons, look to stay unbeaten

Stratford’s Devin Washington (left) and the Knights play tonight at Summerville, a team they haven’t beaten since 2002.

Paul Zoeller

In 2007, Stratford High School was the sixth-largest high school in South Carolina. Four years later, the school ranks in the mid-20s in enrollment.

When Cane Bay High opened in 2008, students from Stratford, Berkeley and Cross were sent to the new school, but the school hit hardest was Stratford.

The once-dominant football program took a major hit in numbers, and the results -- as expected -- meant fewer wins.

For a stretch between 1997-2006, Stratford won at least 10 games. Over the next four seasons, the Knights were 21-27.

However, after a 4-0 start in 2011, it appears the program is headed back to the top. Head coach Ray Stackley says things are definitely improving, not so much because the numbers are better, but because the team has the right attitude.

"We've done a great job up to this point, and I'm proud of our kids," said the coach. "We have played extremely hard for four straight weeks. The effort has been all we could ask for. It's all about toughness -- mentally and physically. This team has been tough and they've played hungry. We're not the most talented team around, but our kids believe they are talented and sometimes that's all that matters."

Stackley says his team lacks overall depth but feels the starting units on both sides of the ball are capable of competing against any team they face.

Offensively, the Knights count heavily on a running game that is led by senior Devin Washington, but juniors Noah Shuler and Jamar Stevens are putting up solid numbers as well.

Quarterback Jacob Park is a sophomore, but started as a freshman and now has 16 games under his belt.

Defensively, the Knights have been very consistent, led by senior linebackers Brandon Young and Terrell Walton, and senior defensive back Justin Mood.

"What we have defensively is not so much great prospects, but we have 11 guys who will fly to the football and will make great contact," said Stackley. "They really play with a lot of effort, and we seem to be getting better each week."

Last season, Stratford opened with five losses in its first six games. Losses to Berkeley, Sumter and Beaufort in the first four weeks last year have been avenged this season.

Tonight, the Knights face Summerville, a team that Stratford has not defeated since the 2002 season. Stratford begins a stretch of extremely tough games with Goose Creek and Fort Dorchester to follow Summerville. Stackley calls it "the tunnel."

"All four teams play each other over the next few weeks, so a lot will be decided during that time," Stackley said. "It's a very difficult stretch, starting with Beaufort last week, really. We're going to be pushed mentally and physically to the limit, so we'll learn a lot about the type of team we have this year."