Hanahan High head football coach Charlie Patterson knew that if his team was to make any kind of run in the Class AA state playoffs, they would need senior wide receiver Chris Brown to play big.
One of the state's top wide receiver prospects, Brown was injured in Hanahan's second game of the season. While out, the Hawks rebounded from an 0-4 start to win four straight games, and since Brown returned to play, the Hawks have won three more games.
Football, however, is all about the playoffs, and Patterson knew that his 6-2, 180-pound star would be a difference-maker in the postseason.
Adding to the importance of his return was an injury to Hanahan's other top receiver, Patrick Alston, who was hurt in the final game of the regular season and will not return in the playoffs.
"Certainly, Chris came back at the right time, and it's unfortunate for Patrick and for us as a team that we don't have them both available," said Patterson.
With Brown, the Hawks have unlimited big-play potential. In the three games since his return, Brown has nine touchdown receptions and has returned two punts for scores.
"He gives us a big-play threat from anywhere on the field, and that's something we were lacking when he was hurt," said Patterson. "It forces defenses to make an adjustment and to account for him. If you line up normal and just try to cover him with one guy, it's not going to work too well. Having him back has opened up some things for us offensively, particularly in the running game. Offensively, we are playing very well right now."
Brown has been able to excel quickly after his injury because of the work he put in while he was out. As soon as he was cleared to begin working out, Brown participated in passing drills and stayed in shape.
"He was at every practice doing something, everything except contact, until he was released to start playing in games, and I think that helped him in terms of getting right back into the flow," said Patterson.
In last week's playoff win over Lake City, Brown caught nine passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns while adding a punt return for a score as well. Said Lake City coach Jim Rowell of Brown's performance: "He made us look silly."
Patterson says Brown's injury forced other players to step up their game, and junior quarterback Anthony Smalls was one such player. During the 0-4 start, Patterson and the coaching staff wondered if Smalls was the right guy and if the Hawks needed to adjust the offense.
Smalls, however, showed steady improvement as the season wore on and has flourished even more since Brown's return.
Entering tonight's playoff game with Timberland, Smalls has passed for more than 2,200 yards and 25 touchdowns, ranking among the top Class AA quarterbacks in the state in passing yardage.
"Anthony's play has been the biggest key to our success," says Patterson. "He struggled some early but he just got better and better every week, and he's playing with a high level of confidence right now."